Rural politicians frustrated after budget passes unchanged
Enniskillen Mayor Kevin Marriott could not bring himself to vote in favour of Lambton County’s budget.
County council met for an hour and 40 minutes to go over the economic road map.
It calls for $204.3 million in spending. Councillors passed it without making any changes, a first in recent memory.
Marriott, with the support of Brooke-Alvinston Mayor Don McGugan, tried to have the budget reduced by $250,000 reasoning that money could have been taken out of the snow budget, since there has not been a lot of snowfall.
But even that request was turned down. “I was totally ticked off,” he says.
Frustrated, when the vote was called Marriott abstained from voting – the only councillor in the room to voice any dissent. And the budget was passed with a 3.75 per cent increase in taxes. It will be just 2.39 per cent because there is more property to spread the taxes around to.
Warden Bill Weber commended staff saying they brought council a reasonable budget which maintains services.
Even usually harsh critics were pleased. Warwick Mayor Todd Case, who admitted he usually votes against the budget, made the motion to pass it. “I’m not one that supported county budgets, but I’d like to thank staff for this realistic budget,” said Case adding staff “performed somewhat of a miracle with the uncertainty in the province of Ontario.”
But Marriott and McGugan see another side of the county budget. For small rural municipalities facing double-digit tax increases because the province is cutting funding, the lower the county portion of the budget is, the more room they have to fit in some of their priorities without a big hit to individual property owners.
Marriott says larger municipalities, that aren’t facing those cuts, don’t seem to understand how critical it is to keep any increases to the rate of inflation. “There is no way we should have been over the rate of inflation,” he says. “People will say, ‘it’s only half a point’ but half a point is a lot when the lower tier municipalities are having a hard time.”
While McGugan agrees, he adds with such a large budget, councillors would have to find $750,000 just to lower the tax rate one per cent. “It is hard to find that kind of money.”
Most of the county’s money is spent in social services for things such as social housing and the Ontario Works program.
Those programs require about $76.4 million in 2017.
It costs about $31.8 million to run the long-term care homes and another $26.8 million to pave roads and repair bridges in the infrastructure and development department.
The proposed budget includes $10 million to upgrade social housing – that’s the second phase of a $40 million plan. Two bridges, Bear Creek and Aberarder, will be rehabilitated and the Lambton Heritage Museum will be renovated.
The county council chambers in Wyoming will also be made more accessible.
The plan also puts aside $5.1 million in reserves.
Treasurer John Innes told county councillors a number of factors are driving the budget up including wage and salary increases which reached almost $950,000 this year, and another $375,000 in benefit changes, $433,000 in extra utility costs, including hydro, and another $1.3 million is needed because of the way Ontario Works client allowances are paid.
But, Innes says the province is taking over about $790,000 more of the cost of Ontario Works, and because of growth in the county, there is about $606,000 available from new taxes.
The effect is a $6.42 million increase in spending over last year or about 3.75 per cent. That translates into about a 2.39 per cent tax increase.