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Coun. Lauer asks for more time with budget documents before making decisions

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

Tim Lauer

Tim Lauer

The City of Orillia's 2018 budget could cost the typical property owner in the city an extra $100.

The preliminary operating budget for the city is set to rise 3.34%, translating to an increase of $101 for every $250,000 of assessment.

That number doesn't take into account the province's education tax rate, which will not be finalized until May. City staff expect the education tax rate to create a lower blended tax rate, as has been the trend in recent years.

As well, the tax rate doesn't account for changes in a property's value. With 2018 being the second-year of the current Municipal Property Assessment Corporation phase-in cycle, each property owner could face a different increase or decrease, in real terms, based on the increase or decrease in value to his/her property.

The operating budget itself has come in lower than planned, city treasurer Jim Lang told councillors. In July, staff began their work on the budget with a goal of 3.5%.

"There were a couple of issues; probably the largest was that the OPP settled their contract with their employees," Lang explained. "Up until this point, we'd been making estimates as to what that might be. The actual is less than the estimate, so we've been able to see some savings there."

Beyond that, the lower impact was the result of the work put in by staff over the summer and through the fall to fine-tune the essential service levels the city seeks to provide.

While some of the increases are more inflationary, new spending accounts for some of the operating budget's larger items.

"We have a new transit contract that's increasing costs. There's a number of initiatives for transit that factor into that," Lang said.

"We're introducing a brand new recreation centre, which has some impact," he added. "However, we've been planning for that for the past three or four years."

The new transit contract adds almost $275,000 to the budget, or about 0.5%. The recreation centre has a budget line of $434,500, equal to nearly 1% of the increase, but is offset in part by a $200,000 transfer from reserves.

The budget deliberations were almost derailed before they started, with concerns about the process once again being raised by Coun. Tim Lauer. Rather than his usual complaint -- that the process for a new year should be undertaken in the new year -- he questioned the amount of time councillors actually had with the documents.

"It sort of slipped by me that we're expected to go through the entire capital book by Friday," Lauer said. "I have a real problem with just having two days to go through this whole book. There was a time when we used to get these two weeks beforehand. You got to go around to talk to each department head and you used to be able to actually visit sites."

Councillors were reminded by CAO Gayle Jackson they had previously approved the dates for budget deliberations, but there was still a disconnect in the eyes of Lauer.

"If we had the book two weeks ago, this wouldn't be an issue," he said.

Coun. Ted Emond had his concerns with the process as well, suggesting councillors were being asked to pass motions on reports they hadn't been able to vet.

But the process really hadn't changed during this term of council, Lang suggested. The motions presented to committee Tuesday had been worded not so that budget committee accepted the reports, but acknowledge their existence in advance of the deliberations in the coming days.

Budget committee meets again Thursday with the agencies and committees council supports through the budget process.

Deliberations on the city's operating and capital budgets are set to begin Friday morning, however, a special meeting of council has been called for 12:30 p.m. Thursday to reevaluate the schedule.

pbales@postmedia.com

twitter.com/patrickbales



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