Petrolia taxpayers likely won’t face tax increase in 2021

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Municipal taxes likely won’t be going up in Petrolia in 2021.

Town council held about four-and-a-half hours of budget hearings Wednesday going over the proposed $5.865 million operational and $1.7 million capital 2021 budget and has basically agreed with the proposed road map which will not increase municipal taxes this year.

Town administrators also propose holding the line on water and sewer rates this year, however a study is planned in 2021 to make sure the rates charged to customers fully pays for both the water and the sewer system, as is required by provincial law.

Petrolia’s mayor was pleased with the hold-the-line budget, adding even though taxes are not being raised, there are plenty of projects which move the municipality forward.

“This was not easy,” Brad Loosley told councillors “but some of our residents have been severely impacted by COVID-19 and not increasing rates will help them get through 2021.”

There has also been new revenue into this years budget, according to CAO Rick Charlebois. The town will collect $107,000 more in taxes simply because the value of housing in the town (property assessment) has increased, according to Loosley. The Ontario Municipal Partner Fund grant Petrolia receives is also up $27,600 this year.

The town will also come in about $200,000 under budget by the end of 2020, according to Loosley.

Councillors made only a few changes; adding $15,000 to replace sidewalks – $50,000 in all will be spent there. It cut $15,000 out of council’s conference budget noting many conferences are likely to be online this year. It also took $5,000 out of the legal budget. And an unforeseen expenditures line in the budget was also cut in half. The fund was created by the last CAO six years ago, allowing him to make quick decisions on emergency items without council approval. In six years, it has never been used. That fund now stands at $20,000.

The budget also includes:

A two-per cent wage increase for everyone employed by the town, including council.

A new $25,000 line for promoting the downtown. Laurissa Ellsworth, director of marketing, arts and communication, says the town has been working on a new Petrolia Business Association, which they had hoped to launch this year. The money will be used to support businesses for marketing, promotions, and local events. “We are looking closely at the economic recovery of our downtown and the sustainability of such businesses for this economic down turn.”

Public works will spend $275,000 on a new plow truck. It replaces a 2004 Freightliner says Mike Thompson, director of operation.

“It’s a safety concern. We have to drive around town with the dump box elevated in the air because that’s how the salted spread of the road is gravity fed. So, you got to lift the box up to have a go down to the auger and then and then continue on to the spreader.”

Mayor Loosley questioned whether it was needed this year. Councillor Joel Field says it was first scheduled to be replaced in 2016, then again in 2018. “We’ve deferred of a couple years now just because Mike was trying to get some little extra life out of it,” says Field.

Councillor Wade Deighton agreed. “If we don’t buy these on the schedule that we’ve set out for ourselves … it’s all going to snowball on us at once and we’ll have extra expenditures later on. We have this in a plan, let’s try and stick to that plan, in my opinion, and move forward.”

Public works will spend $175,000 – after trade ins – on a Kubota trackless mower which was recommended by a consultant earlier this year who said it would be a time saver.

For now, the cost of setting up the compost transfer station on Maud Street – $54,500 – is still in the budget. Council is set to discuss it further Oct. 26.

Council set aside $1.846 million for the reconstruction of Greenfield St. $1.14 million is for roads and $750,000 is to replace the water and sewer works beneath the surface. The town has already engaged MIG Engineering on a contract worth over $100,000 for the drawings for the project. CAO Rick Charlebois told council he has been told the federal and provincial governments will be announcing a new infrastructure programs to stimulate the economic recovery.

There is $50,000 set aside for grant preparation at Victoria Hall. Ellsworth says the money will be used to have architectural and engineering studies completed to make the playhouse portion of the hall more accessible.

“One of those things is additional elevator for passengers to access the balcony in the back of the main floor,” she told council. “The other …would be additional bathrooms on a main floor level for accessibility…And (we’re) looking at a freight elevator to replace the existing scissor lifts in the back to access the third floor stage area.”

The town had been looking for grant money for a similar study and the $9.2 million renovation and addition to the historic hall last year, but failed to get federal, provincial and county grants for the project.

Another $45,000 has been set aside for an information sign at Victoria Hall. Ellsworth says it was supposed to be completed in 2020 but has been put over to 2021. She says it needs to be completed in the coming year.

“It’s unfortunately rotting literally of the ground right now. We’ve done our own drawing of a new sign and we are looking at sponsorship for that. But if we do not obtain sponsorship, I feel that the signs going to rot before before too long, so we put $45,000 aside based on a couple of quotes for sign of the size we’re designing.”

Petrolia’s contribution to the St. Clair Conservation Authority is expected to go up to $51,500 in 2021, up by $3,619 or seven per cent.

There has also been new revenue into this years budget, according to Charlebois. The town will collect $138,557 more in taxes simply because the value of housing in the town (property assessment) has increased. The Ontario Municipal Partner Fund grant Petrolia receives is also up $27,600 this year.

Total operational spending is up $317,041 in 2021 when compared to the 2020 budget figures. Councillors did not have an accurate view of what actually was spent in 2020 since two-and-a-half months of spending has yet to occur.

Only place the town’s operational spending decreased for 2021 is in the cemetery by $4,144.

The town’s departments which have increased spending this year include the Planning and Development up $15,249 because of increased development.

General Administration up $21,295. The salary line decreased by about $37,000 as the town filled a maternity leave with a part-time employee. Most of the increase was for maintenance and repairs at Victoria Hall and a $35,000 increase for custodial services for to meet COVID-19 standards.

Facilities Maintenance is up $13,459, Protective Services (policing) up $44,951, Fire increases $13,595, Public Works is up $18,315, the Community Centre increases $61,531, Arena is up $87,916, Parks and Recreation is up $18,188, Community Events up $11,650, and Marketing up $3,198 to $145,310. That does not include the $25,000 set aside in the capital budget to promote Petrolia’s downtown businesses.

The budget also shows the town has $6.6 million in reserves. By the end of 2020, the town will have $8.46 million in debt.

Council will hold a public open house on the budget Nov. 9 at 6 pm virtually. The access information will be on the town’s civic website.

Town council is likely to formally approve the 2021 budget Dec. 14.