The rubber is expected to hit the road Friday as Prince Edward County council is set to dig in and begin cutting line items from its proposed $44.6 million budget for 2017.
The tax hike sits at at 6.6% after a fourth day of deliberations on Thursday that focused on the $11.5 million capital budget with debates primarily on roads, $450,000 in millennium trail upgrades and $1 million for the purchasing of new vehicles. The only new item introduced was $10,000 for speed display signs.
Heading into Friday, mayor Robert Quaiff said he would like to see the tax levy below 3% but given fiscal restraints and an 11% increase in electricity costs uncured by the municipality over last year he seemed hesitant at council’s ability to do that.
The first 3% can be cut if council chooses to eliminate an additional $1 million proposed for road reserves.
When asked if the mayor thought ratepayers could afford a 3% tax hike given the many constraints on households already, he admitted he doesn’t think they can.
It was decided Thursday that the water and sewer rates will remain at 2016 prices until a report comes back to council in April 2017 from the ADHOC committee – a group tasked with brainstorming ways to reduce them. When questioned about the potential of increased payments being retroactive to January 1, 2017, Chief Administration Officer James Hepburn outlined that he didn’t think that would be fair to ratepayers.
The total water and wastewater debt is $22.4 million with $2.2 million going toward debt servicing.
Currently there are only 5,302 customers on the water system paying $1.98 per cubic meter. 3,944 customers are on wastewater paying a $2.60 consumptive rate. $39.51 is the base charge rate.
“Connection charges are being put toward paying off the debt,” Director of Finance Amanda Carter informed the horseshoe. “All water and wastewater capital projects are being funded through debt servicing.” Water and wastewater capital spending is coming in at $3 million.
“I’m looking at a lot of gloomy faces around this horseshoe,” quipped Councillor Jamie Forrester. “Maybe we should start with water, wastewater and roads next year. But hey we have nice looking parking lots.” *Notably Forrester made similar comments during 2016 budget talks.
“That is the dilemma the ADHOC committee is struggling with,” explained Hepburn. “The principal and interest is being drawn from reserves.”
Commissioner of Engineering, Development and Works Robert McAuley offered a meager cost savings of $42,500 from the wastewater budget if the municipality chooses to explore a different way of transporting bio-solids. Instead of taking them out of the municipality they would be able to spread them locally on farmers fields. Something he said farmers have expressed an interest in.
When it comes to regular capital spending, $6.7 million in road projects top the list. Projects that made this year’s cut include: County Road 1 rehabilitation from Melville Road heading west ($560,000); Picton Main Street rehabilitation from Bridge Street to Spencer Street ($100,000); Bloomfield Main Street reconstruction from the east end at Prinzen Ford Sales to the Wellington Road intersection ($1,451,870); Danforth Road ($1,100,000); Wilson Road ($1,200,000) Belleville Street reconstruction in Wellington from Main Street to Niles Street ($400,000); Road resurfacing treatment program ($1,064,000) and sidewalk construction and reconstruction ($55,000).
Councillor Steve Ferguson was quick to request a repair status on the tail end of the extremely bumpy County Road 13 leading to the world class Prince Edward Point Observatory.
“We have a problem. Now!” explained Ferguson describing the access way to the extremely popular destination for avid birders along Point Petre in his ward of South Marysburgh. “It’s in such disrepair. It’s a danger. I get complaints every week about the state of disrepair.
County Road 13 isn’t on the radar to be fixed answered Commissioner McAuley. He outlined how the roads program is based on traffic volume and economic viability. Any change to that would be dependent on the completion of an asset management plan.
“I’m not comfortable pulling the program apart based on ‘my road…”my road…,'”McAuley said.
“My concern is public safety,” Ferguson defended. “Significant attention should be given to patching it.”
Bloomfield councillor Barry Turpin also expressed similar concerns about the well travelled Closson Road. It is a popular but very bumpy road that sees a lot of traffic as it leads to tourist hot-spots, wineries and the like. It is in the queue for the double resurfacing program in 2018.
Plans to invest $450,000 into a Millennium Trail Restoration over four years also proved to be a sore spot from some councillors while others embraced the idea of a multi-use trail stretching from Trenton to Picton. $225,000 in resurfacing, signage and bridge work is planned for 2017 with the remainder of the project contingent on a successful Canada 150 grant. Many residents and community interest groups including the Prince Edward County Trails Association have been instrumental in fundraising to see the project come to fruition. The Prince Edward County Field Naturalists worked to see that it be deemed a community interest project as there are some issues with the wetlands in Wellington and Hillier. Upon completion the trail would allow for walking, cycling, All Terrain Vehicles, snowmobiles, skiing, snowshoeing, etc.
“I like the fact people have held fundraisers for the trail and it falls inline with the healthy community we are trying to promote,” said Councillor Bill Roberts. He also noted he would like to see the trail as it goes into Northumberland County cleaned up.
Councillor Forrester however took a different stance and wanted to know the long-term financial impact.
“Essentially we are creating a 48 kilometre long highway,” he said. “I would like to know the cost of maintaining it. I also represent a lot of residents who have concerns over losing access to certain parts of that trail.”
Director of Community Development Neil Carbone explained there was no intention for access to change with the implementation of a multi-use trail pointing to the option of adding boardwalks along the trail.
Agreeing with Forrester, councillor Janice Maynard said many residents have emailed her saying they like the trail the way it is and would simply prefer some extra brushing.
Roberts disagreed stating the trail should be inclusive and shouldn’t curtail the use of snowmobiles.
“It’s a public good for everyone living in and visiting the County,” he said.
Councillor Lenny Epstein also agreed with keeping it multi-use referring to the fact many don’t have access to cars coupled with the lack of public transportation in the County.
“This is an opportunity for us to build on something that can be a gem for the County and future generations,” he said. “Compared to what we spend on roads, it’s a no brainer. Let’s do it!”
A later motion by Maynard and seconded by Forrester to have the entire project pulled from this year’s budget was defeated. However the project was deferred to get the maintenance costing Forrester requested.
Deliberations continue Friday at 9 a.m at Shire Hall.