The average Petrolia homeowner could pay at least $69 more for municipal taxes this year.
Town councillors had the first public look at the $6,092,783 operating and $3,958,576 capital budget. And instead of cutting the budget – which is normal in budget deliberations, the councillors added nearly $80,000 to maintain some services offered in the past.
Town staff has recommended a three per cent tax increase in 2023. That comes after three years without a tax increase. The three previous years, the town passed along a one per cent increase.
A three per cent tax increase means homeowner with a house assessed at $193,000 – the average in town – will pay $69 more to cover the cost.
According to the budget, the administration planned to spend about $192,320 more than planned last year and about $100,000 more than the town actually spent in 2022.
There will also be about $54,000 more in revenue because of new housing. Mayor Brad Loosley believes that figure is too low estimating the assessment will likely grow by $94,000 in 2023.
There are some larger than average increases in the budget – including council’s salaries which are up nine per cent more than the $108,000 spent in 2022.
The cost of general administration is up four per cent, but there are some big increases in spending within the department including an 80 per cent increase in legal fees – with $45,000 budgeted this year over $25,000 spent last year. Over all, the town plans to spend about 13 per cent more on legal and professional fees this year.
The town expects to contribute more to the operation of the YMCA in 2023. Taxpayers will foot $487,225 of the bill to run the centre. That’s up from $435,426 in 2022.
About 21 per cent more will be spent to market the town and its businesses. About $10,000 of that will be for marketing local merchants under a new business improvement group.
Town administration is hoping the arena deficit will be lower. Last year, the town paid $243,877 – about $46,000 more than was expected – to cover the arena deficit. In 2023, the town hopes the arena will need $211,966 to cover its deficit.
The town also plans to collect enough taxes that it will be able to put $1,531,458 into working reserves at the end of the budget year – it’s slightly less than the town put into the working capital reserves last year.
Rick Charlebois, town treasurer and chief administrative officer, says the town has built its reserves to $8,904,238.
The 2023 budget also calls for the creation of a new job. The town hopes to hire someone to take care of its asset management plan. That plan keeps track of what repairs are needed on the town’s buildings and equipment and is used to help apply for government grants. That may cost between $50,000 and $80,000 with salary and benefits.
Councillors also expect the new employee to work on applying for grants.
The town also wants to spend money to protect its information systems. There is also about $11,760 in the budget to back up town files to a cloud-based program.
Laurissa Ellsworth, director of marketing, arts and communication, says that would allow the town to be up and running again in 12 hours should there be a disaster at town hall or a cyber attack.
Lambton County was hacked in June 2021. The county’s business grounded to a halt with access to the computer systems compromised for weeks. Loosley says the county “lost a lot of material” in the breech.
$4M IN CAPITAL
The budget also lays out nearly $4 million in capital spending – about $1.7 million of that will come from grants from upper levels of government.
Included in the list of projects this year is yet-to-be explained $200,000 project to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Petrolia, about $100,000 in consultants for everything from a crosswalk study to a pay equity study.
The town also plans to rebuild Derby and Holland Streets as well as Tank Street. The reconstruction of Tank, from the community centre to Discovery Line is estimated to cost $895,000 and would include the new parking lot planned for the soccer fields there.
There was also concern about some of the spending. Councillors turned down a request for a $500 grant to the Lambton Plowmen’s Association for the annual plowing match.
Councillor Liz Welsh expressed concern about “what is essentially a $12,000 taxi service” for the curbside collection and transportation of leaves to Sarnia.
Welsh also noted there is no money in the budget for home composters; the town is required by law to provide the units to taxpayers at cost.
The town nixed that idea when it reopened the transfer station on Maud Street.
Welsh convinced council to allow the town to again offer composters at cost to residents hoping it will encourage people to reduce the amount of food waste going to the curb. The councillor says she diverts about five to 10 pounds of food scraps a week to her home composter – that’s waste the town doesn’t have to pay to put in a landfill.
Town staff expected the cost of the composters could be covered by the suggested budget without adding any extra cash.
EXTRA POTTY CASH
But councillors did add some funding for washrooms. During the pandemic, business owners came to the town asking for access to public washrooms. People were coming into their businesses looking for a washroom – but business owners didn’t want to allow just anyone in.
So, the town made the public washrooms available for longer hours and added 11 port-a-potties at town parks.
That cost a great deal more than what the town normally paid to maintain washrooms – about $71,000 in 2022.
Councillors decided to maintain the porta potties doubling the $30,000 budget.
Councillor Ross O’Hara said it’s a very important service particularly as the town tries to draw people to the area.
“We don’t want people going behind trees,” he said.
TREE PROGRAM REVAMPED
Council also added another $3,000 into the tree program. The town gave away 180 trees in the annual event. It cost nearly $20,000.
Town staff put $5,000 in the budget for the program.
Council agreed to add another $3,000 in the budget so 100 trees will be given away. The program may be restructured so people can apply for a tree and then the names will be drawn randomly instead of a flood of calls one day of the year.
The town is also suspending the Memorial Bench program. Dave Menzies, the director of Parks and Recreation, says the cost for the program shot up during the pandemic. The town spent over $30,000 on the benches – two thirds more than expected.
Menzies says the town is going to look for a better supplier and bring the program back in 2024.
NEW AV SYSTEM OKAYED
Council did save some cash – councillors have agreed to move forward with a better audio and visual system to broadcast town council meetings, but they’ll spend less.
It’s expected about $45,000 will be spent on the system instead of $60,000. Councillors felt it wasn’t necessary to have the presentations viewed at council available on the live feed.
The town will hold a public meeting on the budget Feb. 13 and council is expected to approve the document Feb. 23.
BY THE NUMBERS
√ $ 8,600,078 in revenue
√ $ 6,092,783 in operating costs
√ $1,531,458 to go into a working capital reserve
√ $8,904,238 already in reserves
√ 10.4 per cent – increase in public works budget
√ $435,426 – deficit to run the Y/Community Centre
√ $487,225 expected Y deficit in 2023
√ $1,315,876 in capital projects at the Y in 2023
√ $593,156 federal/provincial grants to cover some of the Y work
√ $225,000 for splash pad infrastructure including plumbing and electrical
√ $243,887 – 2022 arena deficit
√ $211,966 – projected arena deficit in 2023
√ $146,275 – budget for community events in 2023
√ $41,284 for Canada Day
√ $21,068 for Harvestfest
√ $17,522 for Christmas events
√ $14,935 for the Barn Dance
√ $77,275 anticipated revenue for 2023 community events
√ $200,000 for a yet-to-be explained Legacy project celebrating Petrolia’s 150th in 2024
√ $1.6 million in road work with $634,164 from municipal taxpayers
√ $100,000 in consultants for capital projects including $10,000 for a crosswalk study and $20,000 for a pay equity study
√ $7,181,638 outstanding debt at the end of 2022
√ $6,509,087 outstanding debt by end of 2023
√ 2037 Last loan paid in full