St. Clair Township council managed to whittle down the municipal tax increase by emptying a roads reserve during what Mayor Jeff Agar says was the perfect storm for municipalities.
Councillors were faced with a 14.68 per cent municipal tax increase as they started deliberations on a budget of over $40 million.
Treasurer George Lozon said that would have worked out to about $221 more in taxes for the average home and about $140 more for the average farm property.
But several members of council, including Agar, Councillor Pat Brown as well as Deputy Mayor Steve Miller were vocal about their concerns over the increased spending. “There’s no way in hell I’m going to pass a 15 per cent increase – I’ve never seen anything like this,” Miller said at one point.
Council started cutting costs in the roads department. At Agars suggestion, council agreed to use all of a reserve fund set aside for improvements to Polymoore Drive in the industrial park. The $1 million fund came from the sale of industrial land.
Council agreed to use the money for other construction projects – including an $850,000 project on Cameron Street.
“Normally, we would be maintaining that subdivision out of that revenue,” said CAO John Rodey.
“In the future when we spend all that money, it will fall back on us to pay that maintenance.”
Councillor Brad Langstaff noted that would mean the roads in the industrial park “will be treated like every other road in St. Clair Township.”
Miller agreed with the move saying “If we don’t do something like this, were going to have to take a major project out. This is the lesser of two evils.”
Council also took aim at the fire budget which Chief Richard Boyes said increased 19. 4 per cent over 2022.
Boyes said inflation played a role in the increased cost as did adding a third deputy chief with a salary and benefits of about $90,000.
It was a $120,000 four by four which caught the eye of councillors who wondered why it was needed.
“I don’t feel comfortable taking a million worth of fire equipment o across the field,” said Boyes noting the township responds to a number of grass and wheat fires in the rural area.
“I appreciate you could use it, but I’m not sure this is the year to purchase it,” said Miller.
“Were behind the eight ball, we have to look at how we can take things out of the budget which won’t affect operations we have now.”
Boyes argued it was an important piece of equipment to obtain and council instead directed the chief to remove $120,000 in capital equipment from the budget, allowing him to purchase the machine.
A $60,000 emergency siren was also removed from the budget. It was slated to be placed at the Corunna Legion, however Boyes suggested it would be better to use the CNN network to tell people about any emergency situation in the community.
An attempt by Councillor Brown to remove one of two $75,000 pickup trucks from the fire budget – to be used to transport firefighters to the scene – failed.
And a move to cancel plans to turn a building in Sombra into a training station for $40,000 also failed with the deputy mayor stating “We’ve already taken the fire department for $180,000.”
Also included in the budget was four new positions in the community services department as well as another new position in the human resource department.
The new waste contract with Marcotte is also pushing taxes up. It’s increased over $355,000. Staff suggested a number of solutions including implementing a flat user fee to eliminate for urban areas who use the yard waste pickup.
Instead the township council decided to save money there by reducing the number of yard waste pickups from the 14 already scheduled to 11. That should save about $100,000 although council noted there might be some confusion since the recycling calendars have already gone out.
When the dust settled, council had reduced the 14.68 per cent tax increase to 6.35 per cent.
While praising staff and council for the “great job” it put into coming up with the budget, the mayor mused St. Clair’s tax rate will likely have to rise in the future.
Agar says right now the township is “number two” in the county with the second lowest tax rate – the rate municipalities use to calculate taxes.
He suggested that should move up in the future adding “industry in the township should be paying more, too.”