The Town of Petrolia is depending on Lambton County and the province to help keep property taxes to the rate of inflation in 2016.
Town councillors got their first public look at the budget Thursday during an afternoon budget session at Victoria Hall. The proposed budget increases municipal spending to $6,189,794 – $314,894. That works out to about a five per cent increase on the municipal portion of the tax bill.
But town officials say ratepayers will likely only see their taxes go up 1.4 per cent or about $21 more for every $100,000 of assessment. Treasurer Rick Charlebois says the education portion of the taxes is decreasing – likely by about three per cent – and the portion collected for the County of Lambton is likely to remain the same.
The county has yet to release its budget for 2016 but Mayor John McCharles says county staff are well aware municipalities are having a hard time because of provincial funding cuts and are trying to hold the line so municipalities can increase their taxes without hurting the ratepayer’s pocketbook.
Water and sewer rates are also going up this year – each by three per cent.
This year, instead of going through each department’s budget, Charlebois “streamlined” the process, taking councillors through all departments on a “strategic level” showing how much the department would spend compared to last year and highlighting why the budget was changing. The staff also answered councillors questions about specific items in the budget. No cuts were made during the session.
Town staff will hold a public meeting Monday at 5:30 pm to outline the budget to ratepayers. If there are no public concerns, council will likely pass the budget that evening.
Petrolia will now have a part-time fire chief instead of a volunteer. The town and Enniskillen, which share the cost of the department, have agreed to pay $40,800 for the service from the current volunteer chief. Petrolia’s share of that will be about $26,000.
The town will spend just over $1 million on policing this year. The OPP contract came in just $1,000 less than last year.
While many rural municipalities see their provincial funding slashed, Petrolia will get $81,000 more from the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund in 2016.
The town will return the $10,000 the Nicol Trust gives to the municipality for the upkeep of Victoria Hall this year again. Councillors want the money to be used for scholarships at LCCVI instead. Mayor John McCharles, who is part of the selection committee, says even with the town’s contribution there is likely to be only three scholarships this year.
The second phase of Petrolia Line will continue this year. No tax dollars will be allocated to it. The provincial grant will cover most of the cost this year. Charlebois says $25,000 will be taken from reserve to pay the landscaping along street.
About $300,000 will be spent in road resurfacing this year.
Public Works is investigating building its own salt storage barn for $50,000. The town pays a premium to the county for storage which officials believe could easily pay for the building in a short time.
The proposed budget sets aside $5,000 for a Chain of Office for the mayor. Many communities, including Lambton County, Warwick and Sarnia have the ornamental chain for mayor’s to wear during meetings. Typically it is made up of medallions with the names of the community’s mayors since inception.
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia will shoot for $1,000,000 in ticket sales this year. Last year they sold just under $950,000.
The Community Centre didn’t meet what CAO Manny Baron calls “an aggressive budget” set last year. The town expected to use $306,113 to support The Centre – instead it spent $478,905. In 2016, officials expect $461,775 in tax dollars to be spent.
Water and sewer rates will both go up three per cent this year. That’s less than anticipated. A report which Petrolia had been closely following to set its rates had suggested sewage rates rise 10 per cent this year.
The town was able to put more money into its newly established working capital reserve. It anticipated setting aside $370,000 from a special levy set up last year. Instead the town contributed $494,060. Charlebois says $73,000 in special dividends from Bluewater Power, $50,000 of surplus from 2014.
The town will spend $121,400 on special events such as Canada Day and PizzaFest this year. Last year it spent $90,553. Officials expect to offset some of the costs by selling sponsorships to events – $25,000 revenue is expected there.
The arena is slated to get a new zamboni. That’s expected to cost about $80,000 after the trade-in on the old unit.