Updated Mar. 6, 4.28pm: The Township of Muskoka Lakes has issued a media release regarding budget progress made at its March 1st meeting. The following is the verbatim release distributed Monday, March 4 about the last budget meeting held Friday, March. 1.
Related article: Cottage Country Now Article on Budget meeting: http://www.cottagecountrynow.ca/news/cityhall/article/1590429
MEDIA RELEASE: The Township of Muskoka Lakes made significant progress this afternoon [Mar. 1] towards the 2013 fiscal year and its Strategic Plan.
At a Special Council Meeting, Council appointed members to its Zoning Bylaw Review Steering Committee. Appointments to the Committee include Anne McCauley, Susan Benson, Fiona Blair, Bill Grimmett, Denise Rundle, Arnie Coulson, Margaret Walton, Mayor Alice Murphy, Councillor Ruth Nishikawa and Councillor Brad Burgess, who will act as Chair of the Committee.
Mayor Murphy stated; “Council is very pleased with the appointment of this Committee. We have assembled a very diverse and very talented group of people representing all Wards in Muskoka Lakes that have been charged with the review of our Zoning Bylaw and making recommendations regarding needed changes.”
The Zoning Bylaw Review Steering Committee will be assisted by staffing resources that will include; Director of Planning, David Pink, Chief Building Official Neil Donaldson and CAO, Chris Wray.
Mayor and Council also considered the 2013 Municipal Budget that had been forwarded for consideration by the Committee of the Whole. The budget includes a 2.7% increase in levy requirement over 2012. This means that Residential property owners will see an average increase of $2.54 per $100,000 of assessment. Other highlights include:
- An $8.2 million levy to provide all Township services, including summer and winter road maintenance, planning and development services, fire and protective functions, recreation and cultural activities, as well as general administrative functions.
- The budget utilizes cost savings that were achieved in 2012 to provide service improvements related to by-law enforcement, as well as community related economic development. It also addresses a comprehensive zoning by-law review and improvements to long term capital asset management.
- Municipal infrastructure will benefit from $3.2 million of investment, including the Township’s roads and bridges, recreational facilities, and fire department equipment
Mayor Murphy stated; “Council is very pleased that we have been able to finalize our budget at this early date. We are all appreciative for the assistance provided by the Finance Committee led by Councillors Don Furniss and Brad Burgess, the hard work of our staff and the passion of Council.”
Updated Mar. 1, 5.16pm: Attendees at today’s Muskoka Lakes Township budget meeting say a few changes were made to the budget today that prepares it for ratification at the next regular Council meeting on March 15. A motion by Councillor Ron Brent and seconded by Councillor Gault McTaggart recommended a decrease of about $14K in the heritage budget. The fire department budget will also be treated separately to allow Councillor Jean Anne Baranik to vote on the rest of the budget (she recuses herself on fire department matters as her husband is Deputy Fire Chief.
Posted Mar 1. Muskoka Lakes Township Council today gathers at 230pm to consider the budget and may pass a resolution to adopt it. The budget would have to be ratified at the next Council meeting on Friday, March 15. While the public can’t make any more comments or delegations, they can send letters if they have remaining concerns to the Clerk and all Councillors. Of course, the public can observe today’s proceedings in Council Chambers in Port Carling.
Meantime, here are two public delegations that were given at the earlier public input meeting by members of the two ratepayer associations in Muskoka Lakes — the Muskoka Lakes Association and an individual who was speaking for herself but represented the Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association on the budget committee. If you are interested in reading their perspectives, one is here in Downloadable PDF Format: the other is pasted in to be read below.
Note: The budget has undergone changes since the public input night, the evening these presentations were given. For example, the levy is now under 3%. The heritage budget increase was to be discussed the day after the public input night and remains a concern for councillors.
In the MLA presentation, the MLA asks that a review of accomplishments of the Economic Development department be undertaken before that department is funded again. The association is concerned about duplication of services among municipalities. Here is the MLA presentation in PDF Format.
The following presentation was given by Andree Baillargeon, a member of the budget committee and the Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association, who was stopped from finishing her presentation when she reached the words ‘hydro plant’. She had apparently exceeded her five minute presentation limit.
Mayor Murphy, Municipality Councillors and members of the public. Thank you for allowing me to speak.
I am Andree Baillargeon, Beaumaris. Prior to moving here as a year round resident, my husband and I came here to the family cottages. My husband since the 1960s!
I am not here to talk about myself but am here to comment on the proposed budget for 2013. I was asked to join the Budget Review Committee in the fall of 2012. I was able to attend the meeting to review the first draft but unable to attend the meeting of the Budget Review Committee of Jan 21st, but provided my input via email. I was not able to attend the Committee of the Whole Version 3.
At the time I was asked not to provide information back to the Muskoka Ratepayers Association. However, now I find myself in the position that I must express my overall concern regarding the budget in public.
The first draft that I saw had a levy increase required for 2013 of 3.7%, which at the time I thought was too high. It increased to 4.1% and back to 3.6% due to an adjustment of 2012 budget item on culvert installations. The Township of Muskoka Lakes needs to go back to Economic principle and fundamentals relating to both Fiscal and Monetary Policy.
Fiscal policy relate to the levels of government expenditures, taxation and government debt. Tax increases leave both individuals and business with less disposable income, be it for housing, cars, personal items or dividends or spending on business expansion. We are in a recession in this area and cannot afford to have our taxes increased. Yes, you might think that a large percentage of the taxes come from very wealthy people who can afford to pay. Do not kid yourself. If you are Canadian you are paying lots of taxes already. If you are a wealthy American you are going to see your disposable income drop. Did the municipality see the number of building permits and planning fees drop over the past couple of years. Well, expect to see a continuing trend. One option that the government has is to implement policies that include tax incentives that would stimulate the economy. I did not see any dollars that would indicate The Township of Muskoka Lakes considered such policies.
Although some economic theories may suggest that government spending itself stimulates the economy, it is only for the short run. The government cannot sustain continued expansion of its expenses as this requires increasing taxes, slowing the economy.
Debt not being paid down? You will notice that the Township of Muskoka Lakes incurs financing charges on debentures that it has issued. In other words, the Township borrowed money a number of years ago and has not been paying down its debt. I was very disappointed when, during the Budget Advisory Committee meeting, I was told that the amount of debt compared to other municipalities of the same size. Why would we compare ourselves to anyone? Do we, resident/homeowner, compare our level of debt to our neighbours. The Township does not need this extra expense. In fact these interest charges restrict the municipality in fiscal and monetary policy options. When these debentures mature the Township would have options such as putting monies into savings, lowering taxes, etc….
Let me go back to the Levy increase for 2013. First I would like to congratulate the Municipality on reducing insurance costs, equipment maintenance and rentals, utilities, building maintenance, memberships and conferences, mileage and travel, advertising and uniforms and clothing expenditures from 2011 to 2012. However, expenses in Wages and benefits, Roads, General Supplies, Communication and IT, Education and training, promotions and grants, writeoffs, Postage and tax billing, and Agreements creating an overall increase in levy requirements from $7,293,799 ($8,393,799 less $1.1M extraordinary expense) to $8,108,349, an increase of 11%.
Comparing 2012 Budget to 2012 Estimated, the estimate being, the actual expenditures for 2012 from January to the end of October with an estimate of expenses for Nov and Dec of 2012, I looked at items that were over budget by greater than 5%
- Wages and benefits: $251,998 5%
- Legal, audit and consulting: $109,327 22%
- General Supplies and services: $48,841 13%
- Fuel & Lubricants: $14,437 37%
- Postage and Tax billing: $9,491 24%
- Agreements: $43,040 113%
- Reserves: $80,238 34%
Can the Municipality justify this? Are any of these items going to be reoccurring?
Now create a 2013 budget that is realistic.
- 2010 Actuals show a Levy Requirement of $7,169,739
- 2011 Actuals show a Levy Requirements of $8,393,799 which we understand that the increase was caused by one time events relating to Milford Bay. If we remove this extraordinary expense, the Levy Required for 2011 would have been in line with 2010’s expenses, around the $7,293,799.
Now the Municipality is requesting a Levy requirement of $8,272,109, an increase of 13%. Just not acceptable and one reason that you do not compare budget to budget but look to zero based budgeting instead.
How did monthly banking revenue, interest earned jump from $1,681 in 2011 to $77,637 in 2012. The Treasury department has budgeted $65,000 of interest earned in 2013 and then applied an expense of $65,000 to be moved to reserves. Where did the principal for this interest come from?
In 2011 the Building department transferred to reserves $123,633. In 2012, it is estimated that the department will withdraw from the reserves $10,921. The 2013 Budget is showing $93,128 being drawn from the reserves. How could the Municipality have caused a variance of $216,761 in the building department alone. This cannot continue. However, increasing the cost of permits etc… is just another tax and will reduce the number of permits requested.
Heritage monies questioned
I take offence to the fact that the Township of Muskoka Lakes Council is asking for a budget of $60,200 for the Heritage Committee. The Heritage Committee spent an estimated $50,528 in 2012 verses $1000 in 2011. This amount is 102% over the 2012 budget. A request for $31,200 in the original 2013 budget was out of line. To increase the amount to $60,200 is unthinkable.
Using heritage funds to make life difficult for the development of the Bala Falls Power Plant i.e. putting restrictions on lands, such a parking lots, dilapidated docks, designating view and vistas, etc… is a misappropriation of funds.
As suggested by a number of attendees at the Budget Committee meeting on Thursday, Dec 13, 2012, many communities had been able to enhance their downtowns by giving them a heritage feel. An example of this is Nelson, B.C. The Heritage Committee worked with the many stakeholders on a plan before any money was spent in legal fees and designation. A number of buildings were then designated as Heritage Sites, but these were dated buildings that had architecture which provided character to the redevelopment of the main street.
Heritage conservation should be viewed as a matter of local public policy, and should be undertaken within the framework of overall development objectives and community programs. It is important for the Township of Muskoka Lakes to assess its present situation and future prospects with regard to economic opportunities, local resources, and community services and amenities. From such an assessment, municipal and regional development plans can be formulated which promote the highest possible quality of life for community residents. Such plans could be used to co-ordinate the activities of all levels of government as well as private developers so that situations of conflict can be adjudicated and opportunities for co-operation reorganized.
Township of Muskoka Lakes is making a big mistake. Putting restrictions on lands, such a parking lots…, to restrict the development of the Bala Falls Power Plant will undermine opportunities that exist and may disparage the Heritage Committee, now and in the future. Until an overall assessment, including economic opportunities, local resources, etc… can be done, move monies to a Heritage Trust for the upgrades to crown properties and funding individual property owners who are affected by and willing to participated in a heritage conservation program when all the plans are complete, which may take years.
Establishing plans and designations require high levels of communication and coordination with the residents, business owner, etc… and should be accomplished on a volunteer basis. There will end up being monies spent on upgrading designated facilities. The Heritage Committee is premature is wanting to change the Official Plan to require heritage impact assessments, requesting view and vista designations and to ask the province to formally recognize Bala, Port Carling and Windermere as tourist and cultural designations until a full assessment is achieved.
$31,000 in consulting fees for Economic Development. The District should have been responsible for Economic Development and to be looking globally for business opportunities that would not affect the atmosphere and recreational culture of Muskoka. Even Marc Garneau recognizes that year round businesses are needed. If a consultant is justifiably hired, please ensure that you have some performance measurements in place, to provide transparency for the taxpayers of Muskoka .
A further $43000 in consulting fees in the planning department verses $26,997 in 2011, an increase of over 59% strikes me as unreasonable. If there are less severances, minor variances, zoning and by-law permits, there must be a corresponding decrease in expenses, especially consulting and legal fees.
I could spend longer expressing my concern regarding the 2013 Budget, but I believe that I have covered the major areas of concern. The Township of Muskoka Lakes needs to get expenditures back to a pre-2010 level.
Thank you, Andree Baillargeon