By Dan Rankin
CAO Brent Kittmer said he was very pleased with the process of passing the 2016 budget, which he described as an “investment budget” to a gathering of representatives from around 50 St. Marys businesses at the St. Marys Golf Course Wednesday morning.
The budget was finalized by Council on March 22, Kittmer said. The 2016 tax levy of $11,176,500 is an increase of 2 percent from last year. “We are spending a lot of money this year, but for us, we think we’re spending good places,” he said.
“Currently, Council is walking though the process of developing a strategic plan, so we didn’t have that document to guide our efforts,” he said. “My instructions to staff when preparing the budget were to think of it as a status quo budget, to budget responsibly, to look at no service level reductions, to consider the three-year average as a baseline and go from there, and then, to produce a capital budget that was realistic and would actually be delivered within the year.”
Kittmer said he wanted to see a capital budget that would “focus on principles of asset management and looking at life cycle needs, rather than wants for the community.” The CAO showed a chart breaking down budget expenditure items as a percentage of the overall “tax dollar.” Policing costs for the Town represent about 10 cents of every tax dollar spent ($1,167,987), he said, “which is quite normal.” Other big ticket items this year are the Town’s transfer to reserves, which equates to 14 cents ($1,692,772), and public works – primarily transportation infrastructure – which is 16 cents of the tax dollar ($1,815,273).
Industrial and commercial tax rates have gone down incrementally this year, several hundredths of a percent each, “however your tax bill is dependant on your tax rate as well as your assessment, so, any of those of you who have seen your assessment increase, your tax bill will have gone up,” Kittmer said, adding that the provincially-set education tax rate is not yet known. “Historically, the Town does fall in about the mid-range for the area for our tax rates for industry and commercial.”
Kittmer explained how, while the Town had planned institute annual five percent water and sewage rate increases, the closure of the Heinz plan required sewage rates to increase by 10 percent, because the Town “will be seeing a significant reduction in our revenues.” That 10 percent increase is likely to remain for this year and for next year, he added.
“The challenge for us is that we have a significant amount of sewage-related work that needs to be done at our sewage treatment facility and it’s affecting our reserve,” Kittmer said. “We need this revenue stream to make sure that we can keep our sewage treatment facility up and running with lots of capacity.”