If Prince Edward County’s 2017 budget were to tell a story, the Chief Administrative Officer says it would be that of a transition toward fiscal sustainability.
CAO James Hepburn’s comments were made as council was in a heated discussion Wednesday over its $33 million operating budget and whether or not to put $1 million into a contingency fund for roads. $6.7 million of the County’s $12 million capital budget is dedicated to road projects. With the $1 million left in the budget the tax levy now sits at 6.69%. The tax levy with growth excluding the $1 million roads funding is 3.62%
Mayor Robert Quaiff said the addition is good but the municipality just can’t afford it nor would council ever dare to impose a 7% tax hike on ratepayers.
During the talks, Councillor Jamie Forrester spoke up saying there are a lot of things they can’t afford.
When questioned by Councillor Bill Roberts about ‘what kind of story this year’s budget will tell,’ CAO Hepburn said staying focused on the the County’s newly implemented Corporate Strategic Plan and its commitment to core infrastructure is key.
He echoed previous comments from last year’s budget discussions about putting more money towards pay off infrastructure debt. As it was outlined during 2016 budget talks The County will be faced with a projected infrastructure debt of $100 million over the next 20 to 25 years.
Hepburn praised the horseshoe for ‘coming a long way’ in its commitment to put more dollars into road reserves.
Council deferred the matter until the rest of the budget has been discussed.
Items that were slashed from operations include the Community Incentive Plan (CIP) reserve at $100,000 and a benefits administrator position at $74,850. Council also reduced some of the amounts requested in the 12 submitted community grants over $5,000. Council voted to remove the Volunteer Information Quinte grant in its entirety at $5,500.
Another heated debate came as council was deciding whether or not to throw its support behind a $60,000 grant request from the Prince Edward Memorial Hospital Foundation.
The foundation asked for the grant to complete a feasibility study that aims to show the province the County can raise the remainder of the funds required to build a new $75 million hospital.
Councillor Janice Maynard says the County is already putting $150,000 toward the hospital and another $20,000 on doctor recruitment so she couldn’t support the grant.
It was suggested the money be put toward medical equipment or reduce the request to $10,000.
Councillor Kevin Gale raised the point that over the past 10 years the municipality has given $1.25 million to Belleville and Kingston hospitals for separate projects with no financial commitment to the PEMHF.
Council voted to give the foundation the grant after Mayor Quaiff and Councillor Steve Ferguson reminded the horseshoe there are 20 other municipalities in the province vying for new hospitals.
Budget talks resume Thursday morning at 9 a.m. where council is expected to dive into the capital along with water and wastewater budgets.