One Councillor quipped last week that, at the rate they were going, they’d have a budget by June at the latest. That’s beginning to look a little optimistic at this point.
It isn’t that they’re not working at it. Rather, they’re attacking this budget with more detail than I’ve ever seen in all my years of shadowing Thorold City Council. And while it’s refreshing to see them give it so much thought, it isn’t doing anything for the time frame. The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) would at one point say that next budget process will be started in the beginning of the summer, with the Council meetings starting in October. After last night, I’m beginning to think they might overlap.
Starting the meeting at a 3.38% increase on the levy ($37.73 for the year on an average assessment), Council at least potentially spent quite a bit of money but no tax increases went with it so far. So it’s still 3.38% at the end of last night. I’ll explain as I go.
They started on the budget for the Operations Dept. Tuesday night, which includes Engineering, Works, Parks & Recreation, and Cemeteries. Their increase, after cutting to the bone, amounted to 10.7% The Councillors, however, took issue with a number of the cuts and looked for ways to bring them back since they would have affected service.
The first arose from the cutting of a grader or its replacement (a 5-ton truck with plough), used for grading Thorold’s 4 km of gravel road in summer and ploughing snow on certain rural roads in winter. The grader they have been using is beyond repair.
Staff had recommended contracting both jobs in the future, since the grader was needed only about 90 hours a year. This led to a round of proposals and counter-proposals that ended up in a plan to contract the winter work and tar and chip the remaining 4 km of gravel road at a rate of one km/year, pending a report on costs. This is intended to save future costs of contracting grading every summer (not to mention dust control, which no one did).
Mayor Luciani wanted to reinstate $250,000 for a new parking lot on the site that used to house the Parks barn due to continued complaints of a lack of parking downtown. The CFO suggested, when questioned, that the lot could be funded with $100,000 that was collected in payment-in-lieu-of-parking charges. When it was suggested that the lot would be used for permit parking, the CFO also suggested that the balance could be taken from the Capital Assets Reserve provided that all the proceeds from the permits go back into the reserve. That way, there would be a plan to replenish the funds.
Councillor Handley moved that it be done that way until Councillor Neale pointed out that this would interfere with the planning of the new Parking Committee. In the end, it was decided that the money would be earmarked for the new lot plus possibly some parking on what is now the parkette beside Station #1 as requested for the new Medical Centre going downtown, pending study by the Parking Committee.
Councillor Neale also suggested that Committee look at asking for partners among those businesses that have never paid for parking in-lieu charges. To end the parking discussion, Councillor Ugulini suggested that the Committee look into more parking fees, whether in the form of metres, permits or machines as Thorold is one of the very few municipalities that doesn’t raise money for parking improvement in such ways.asked that Council
Councillor Handley moved to have $24,000 for GPS put back into the budget, but held off until Staff can give Council a price which includes the fire vehicles. This is the only item that will have to come from the levy so far.
Councillor Neale got Council to put back $4,750 for a plough blade for the arenas tractor, to be funded from the Arena Reserve. And during a discussion concerning the cost of removing ash trees, Councillor Handley suggested that the City look into having City employees cut trees, possibly starting next year.
As time ran out on the clock for this meeting, Councillor Ugulini brought up the arena operations, saying that the reason Thorold didn’t use all of its ice time is that ice time is too expensive here. He presented Council with a whole list of opportunities Thorold lost because their ice is so expensive. This, however, is not a budget item, unless Thorold cuts its ice rates, which would mean arena operations would need to be made up with taxes, and it was decided to leave this discussion for the Arenas Committee.
Next chapter of the 2015 Budget Saga (the last scheduled session – ha-ha) is April 1, 2015. I’m sure that will be April Fools for anyone expecting it to be done. They still have a long way to go.