Monday and Tuesday were the the first of many budget meetings for the 2018 budget process. The meetings focused on the presentation of the operating budget (Monday) and the presentation of the capital budget (Tuesday). It was frustrating to be in the gallery and watch some members of Council who clearly arrived to these meetings completely unprepared – this is the most important thing you do for the taxpayers all year long – at least read the material before you arrive at the meetings!
Before I get right into it, there are a few things you should know to make this an easier process to understand. Town staff work hard to prepare an initial budget for Council (which was presented last week). In their initial presentation, staff proposed a 2.53% increase – however, once the estimated growth is factored in, it results in a proposed 1.53% increase. Once presented to Council, members have the ability to change or remove any items that were proposed as well as to add any new items. For the purpose of understand what impact the addition of new items has to a tax increase, approximately every $330,000 equates to 1% of tax levy. Also noteworthy, it has been determined that the “average home” has an assessment value of $363,000.
Monday’s meetings started with a presentation by the Town Treasurer, Mark Villeneuve but it didn’t take long until the meeting got nasty with a dispute between Councillor Kidd and Mayor Williams. Kidd was upset that he was interrupted in his questions and went after the Mayor stating that he was already being rude just a short time into the meeting. “With all due respect, I don’t appreciate you coming to a budget meeting dressed as you are. The rest of us put a shirt and tie on, and I think it is only appropriate the mayor does the same thing.”
There was a list of items presented as ‘Items for Consideration’ totalling $1.4 Million which included $800,000 for the hiring of 8 Firefighters (The addition of 8 firefighters is equal to a 2.4% increase). That item was deferred until Tuesday’s meeting where they would have further discussion and make some decisions.
At the end of Monday’s Meeting, they had added in all of the Items to Consider with the exception of the Firefighters resulting in a 2.6% proposed increase by the end of the night.
Tuesday’s Meeting began with the discussion about the Firefighters before moving into the presentation of the capital budget. As you may remember, in July 2015 Council was presented with the Fire Master Plan which had 55 recommendations to improve the Fire Department including the hiring of 10 F/T Firefighter to have a complete 24/7 Fire Department. None of these recommendations have been met to date. Fire Chief, Ron Morden spoke passionately to Council about the need to hire these 8 firefighters to begin a night shift to improve response time and protect the public and their properties. Morden went on the explain that “after-hours” the department is handled primarily by the volunteers who, while qualified and excellent firefighters, lose response time by not being in the building at the time of a call. At times, Morden explained, the response time at night can be upwards of 15-20 minutes to have the first truck on site – which is well below the provincial standard. During the day, however, the response time is stellar and the average time for the first truck to be on scene is under 5 minutes. The chart below is that which was a part of the Fire Master Plan in 2015 and from listening to the Chief, it doesn’t appear as though anything has improved since then.
Councillor Campbell spoke passionately about the need to enhance this service as well and Councillor Wilson quickly seconded her motion to approve the hiring of 8 firefighters. It wasn’t long before Councillor Garisto began to put out his reasons for not wanting to support this motion due to the tax burden it would cause on residents. Mayor Williams chimed in as well stating that he would like to see Fire Services move to a County wide Fire Service instead.
Quote of the night goes to Councillor Wilson who brought up some great points. Councillor Wilson argued the irony behind the logic when just a couple of months ago during the OPP Costing, the biggest point of contention was that the savings of $4 Million wasn’t worth it if the response times were going to possibly be slower than what OPS offers us…and now, just mere months later with documented proof from the Fire Chief that response times are inadequate between the hours of 6pm and 6am, it’s somehow not worth spending $800,000 to fix the problem. Well played, Councillor Wilson, well played.
Councillor Bradley stated that she doesn’t want it on her conscience that she was a Councillor who voted against a necessary service if something tragic occurs as a result. She proceeded to call Councillor Garisto out on always stating that he is there to protect the taxpayer and yet he voted against the savings that OPP would have brought the municipality.
The hiring of the 8 firefighters was not passed with only Councillors Wilson, Bradley and Campbell supporting the motion while Councillors Kidd, Garisto, Deputy Mayor Maycock and Mayor Williams were opposed.
So here is my question to everyone. Our tax dollars were used (to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars) to conduct this study and create a Fire Master Plan to identify the deficiencies in the department and include the solutions. This was presented to Council more than 2 years ago and was simply “received” (meaning that it was essentially tossed on a shelf and ignored). So here we are in present state – 7 people around the Council table have known for more than 2 years that this need was there. Yet no one, not one, has presented a solution of how we are going to address this need. Why is there no plan in place beyond pushing it forward to the next year to the next year and to the next year in the hopes that YOU won’t have to be the Council who spends the money????
What do you think? Do we need a 24/7 Fire Department? What would you like to see happen?
More Budget Talks
The capital budget talks didn’t go too far on Tuesday. In fact, they weren’t even able to complete the presentation from the Treasurer. The budget is far from complete and there are many meetings scheduled:
October 30th – Council Meeting
November 6th – Budget Meeting
November 13 – Council Meeting
November 20 – Budget Meeting
November 27 – Council Meeting
If you have questions about the budget or budget process, address them to firstname.lastname@example.org and PLEASE don’t forget – these meetings are open to the public and there is always a ‘Question Period’ on the agenda. If you have comments, concerns or questions, be part of the solution! Get out to a meeting!