Day one is in the books when it comes to the 2018 budget discussions in Prince Edward County.
The day began with a word of caution from CAO James Hepburn who told those in council chambers they are facing an asset management crisis and after years of forewarning this was coming, he said it has finally come home to roost.
Council was looking at an approximate two per cent operating budget increase over 2017 to start the day.
The net tax levy for 2018 proposed budget comes in at $34,926,900 which is an increase of over $1.27 million dollars over 2017 or 3.8 per cent. Once assessment growth is factored in, the tax rate comes in at approximately 2.4 per cent, or $828,000 higher than last year.
Hepburn says this budget sees aggressive spending and reserves will be low in 2019 and future years.
This is a concern to Mayor Robert Quaiff who says when this council took office in 2014, reserves were scarce.
Councillor Janice Maynard asked what kind of increase they would be looking at if they didn’t use so much of their reserve monies and CAO Hepburn stated off the top of his head it would be approximately 25 per cent.
Hepburn told council staff were looking to maintain service levels in 2018 while also adding a few new staffing positions such as a clerk’s assistant, two new staff for roads maintenance and winter control.
A number of projects on the books were also left on the back burner as they are unfinanced said Hepburn. That works out to $29.6 million.
Mayor Quaiff says it will come down to figuring out which projects are going to receive support next year and which ones won’t.
Council also added placeholders in the budget for sidewalk snow removal in Cherry Valley and Milford.
The issue was brought up by Councillor Jamie Forrester who says it is a safety issue and requested $100,000 be set as a line item for discussion later on.
Council also put in a placeholder of $250,000 for affordable housing.
This didn’t sit well with Councillor Dianne O’Brien who said they don’t even have a definition of what affordable housing is.
Mayor Quaiff threw his support behind the motion stating affordable housing has been a topic of discussion since 2000 and the need is in front of them.
Hepburn suggested council potentially look at increasing the tax rate as council has been effective at keeping it low the past few years.
Quaiff says while an option, there is only one taxpayer and federal tax, provincial tax and municipal tax all add up.
Major projects on the books for 2018 include the Wilson Road reconstruction at just over $2 million, replacement of an ambulance at $153,000, a new pumper truck for the fire department at a cost of $345,000, the H.J. McFarland Home redevelopment plan comes in at $100,000 and the Black River Bridge Rehabilitation at $345,000.
Budget discussions continue today (Tuesday) in council chambers beginning at 9:30 a.m.