The rising cost of electricity rates is hitting Prince Edward County ratepayers hard from both ends – at home and through the 2017 operating budget.
Council spent all of Tuesday going over its $33.2 million operating budget and user rates. Council didn’t add or slash any items from the budget which still holds a 1.8% tax levy. As reported Monday, Chief Administrative Officer James Hepburn said there are still many items to consider and community grant requests continue to come in so that number could change.
Moving forward, Quinte News has put in a request to staff to find out the total impact caused by rising hydro rates. For example there is a $43,000 increase in rental and utilities at H.J. McFarland Home plus another $18,000 jump in the Fire Station’s bottom line. Both are being attributed to a bump in electricity, natural gas and propane costs.
Mayor Robert Quaiff commended council’s efforts in taking the increases into account and asking the ‘hard questions’ of staff to try and find the taxpayers savings in other areas. The mayor told Quinte News he too will be inquiring as to the total cost as tax payers are getting hit through taxes and at home.
During deliberations Picton councillor Lenny Epstein suggested the County get ‘back in the electricity game’ to assist financial sustainability.
Mayor Quaiff said it wouldn’t happen during this budget cycle.
Commissioner of Engineering and Works Robert McAuley said it would take a massive study to undergo any new business. It would have to be looked at during business sustainability discussions around the corporate strategic plan.
Another area that saw a lengthy debate was proposed increases to user fees for Picton’s Crystal Palace.
Facility manager Lisa Lindsay is proposing an 8% increase that works out to $800 per day to rent the Main Street location. She beamed it’s booked through to 2018. Other community centres will see a 5% increase across the board which council approved.
Councillor Jamie Forrester spoke up saying the use of premium buildings such as the Crystal Palace should come at a cost of $1,200 during the prime time season.
Lindsay said while the Crystal Palace is a ‘gold mine’ the $800 rate allows local community groups to be able to afford events and keep the facility operating at 89% on weekends.
A handful of councillors agreed with Forrester and said charging market rates for the Crystal Palace would drive more revenue.
Forrester also suggested $800 only be charged to community groups and during the off season.
Council deferred the matter back to Lindsay for further investigation. An update is expected to come back Wednesday.
In other businesses, the issue of the County embarking into a partnership with the Bay of Quinte Regional Marketing Board was raised.
It happened while council was going over the community development portion of the operating budget.
Councillor Janice Maynard voiced hesitations about the County only having one voice at the table with Bay of Quinte Tourism and Bay of Quinte Living now transitioning into one entity. She said she felt like this was the municipality’s last chance to speak up as it will be the Community Economic Development Commission who will come before council to make its recommendation for the funding in the near future.
Director of Community Development Neil Carbone says the last thing he would want to see is any compromise to the County’s brand.
The board made presentations to Quinte West council Monday night and Belleville the previous week. Both of which received municipal support for two year contracts at $1 per capita. ($50,000 Belleville; $43,086 Quinte West)
An official ask for the County hasn’t been outlined nor has a total been earmarked specifically for the board.
Budget talks will resume on Wednesday at 9 a.m. at Shire Hall.