Petrolia approves $6.18 million operating budget

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Petrolia council has approved its $6.18 million operating budget.

The town is depending on Lambton County and the province to help keep property taxes to the rate of inflation in 2016.

Thebudget increases municipal spending to $6,189,794 – $314,894 more than last year. That works out to about a five per cent tax increase on the municipal portion of the tax bill.

But town officials say ratepayers will likely only see their total property tax bill 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.

Water and sewer rates are also going up this year – each by three per cent. Sewage rates were expected to rise 10 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  repeated the budget session for about 10 members of the public Monday night before council approved the document at its regular meeting.

“This is an extremely good budget,” says CAO Manny Baron. “It puts our best foot forward…it’s pretty tight. There is no fluff. The staff cares about the ratepayer a great, great deal and we’re excited for 2016. We have so many good things happening in Petrolia and this is the start of it.”

Mayor John McCharles agreed saying the way the town budget has changed dramatically. “It used to be council would go through it and chip away at it. Now, you’re coming with the true numbers. I don’t see any fat in it – I see the true numbers. And I see lots of good things happening.”

Councillor Joel Field added he feels more confident about this budget than any other in his time on council. “The amount were putting into reserves is good and we’re starting a program for resurfacing – that’s really important.” He also praised the treasurer who has “done a great job along with the rest of the directors” preparing the budget.

Councillor Tim Brown says the staffs work to gain grants for large project was particularly important. “Those grants lower our taxes.” And Brown was impressed the process was completed so quickly saying that could improve the town’s financial picture as well since it could now ask for bids on big projects, like Petrolia Line, before other municipalities and obtain a better price.

Councillor Mary Pat Gleeson and Liz Welsh also voiced their support before the unanimous approval of the document. “I’m really pleased with what you’ve been able to accomplish,” Gleeson told staff. “It’s a lot of money but not nearly as much as it would have been if you had not been so aggressive.”

Welsh added she is impressed “how you manage to maintain the level of service” in town.

Budget Highlights

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.

The town has set up a $40,000 contingency fund which will be managed personally by the CAO. Baron says it would cover any unforeseen circumstances such as finding an abandoned oil well during the construction of Petrolia Line. Any items paid for from the fund, he says, will first come to council for approval.

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. It’s already sold 14 per cent more tickets for this season than it did last year at this time.

The VPP will also put close to $56,000 into a reserve fund – the additional revenue returned to the town from the 2015 season.

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. That would be a 3.8 per cent decrease in the budget.

The Centre will also spend $30,000 to reconfigure the desk at the building’s entrance. Officials want to move closer to the door so staff faces users when they arrive to improve customer service. The renovation will also provide much needed additional storage space.

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 in 2015. 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. In total, nearly $800,000 was placed in reserves in 2015.

In 2016, the town plans to put $400,000 into the Working Capital Reserve.

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.

Several of the department’s budgets are rising significantly – some by more than $10,000 – to cover the rising cost of hydro.  Charlesbois says the town has been implementing several efficiency improvements, such as LED Street Light project; solar lights for our new Basketball Court at Woodland Park; Variable Frequency Drives and LED lights at the pool. An energy audit was recently completed at The Centre and Charlebois expects more savings ideas from it.

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.

A new entrance sign will be built on the East/West entrance of the town – $25,000 has been set aside for that.

The town will pay its bylaw enforcement officer nearly $40,000 this year. Last year, the town budgeted $28,000 for the service but actually spent about $38,000. Town staff say they have been getting many positive comments about how the new bylaw enforcement officer engages with the public.

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