Proposed budget features tax hike for Emo

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

With no cuts to services to be made and facing a massive deficit, the Township of Emo is looking at a significant increase in taxes in its proposed 2021-2022 budget.

With inflation, costs to the municipality have gone up significantly. Fuel for vehicles is over 75 per cent more expensive, natural gas cost has gone up eight percent, wage costs have risen almost five percent, and other regular expenses have also increased significantly. When the proposed budget was initially created, Special Projects Coordinator Doug Brown says there was a significant deficit, with no further budget cuts available.

Brown, the former acting CAO in Emo and former CAO of the Town of Fort Frances, has remained on staff to help get the municipality’s budget in order for this fiscal year. Brown stepped down from the CAO role earlier this year when Crystal Gray was hired as interim CAO and Clerk-Treasurer,

“There were no cuts to services,” Brown said. “So basically, it’s kind of the status quo, they’re (the Township) going to run the arena, they have the water treatment plant, the library, the EarlyOn Centre, and parks and rec. So, at the end of the day there’s no service cuts. If you do all that, there’s a deficit of around $109,000.”

To make up for the deficit without cutting services, taxes have to go up, he said.

“So based on the tax revenue that [Emo] collected last year, they have to raise taxes by 6.14 per cent,” Brown said. “We talked about the tax increase, and there are different tax classes, commercial, industrial, pipeline and farming. At the end of the day, the majority of Emo’s taxes are paid by the residents and they’re going to go up six per cent.”

At a public budget meeting to discuss the budget, Brown noted several issues he has seen in the township and offered some solutions. One of the ideas was to divest of the crumbling curling club.

“We still own the curling club,” Brown said at the public meeting. “That has expenditures, insurance, hydro to keep the heat on, that kind of thing. That’s $10,000. So, one of the things council is looking at is offloading the property.”

There was some debate as to what constituents would think about the club being given up, but repairs to the building would drive taxes even higher as the building has been closed by order of the fire chief.

Interim CAO and Clerk Treasurer Crystal Gray said to bring the curling club up to safety and accessibility standards would be much more than residents would likely want to pay.

“We [would] have to bring it up to compliance,” Gray said. “Do taxpayers have that money? Do they want their tax rates to be increased by 20 per cent every year to keep that building going and make sure it’s compliant for the handful of people who use it, when there are curling rinks that are still operational in Fort Frances, Stratton and Rainy River?”

Gray went on to say that the town can’t have everything that all the residents want.

“Unfortunately we can’t have everything,” she said. “We would like to have everything, but your municipality is bleeding dry, and there’s going to come a time where if we can’t stop the bleeding. We’re going to have to call the Ministry [of Municipal Affairs and Housing] and say ‘we’ve got a problem,’ and they will start axing things.”

Another issue Brown says Emo has, is long-term debt.

“Emo has long-term debt,” Brown said. “They have a loan that they pay about $120,000 off the principal a year for the next 13 years. That costs money to do that every year.”

One of the other significant line items in the budget is the waste management system, which has cost over $100,000 to operate the last two years. One of Brown’s suggestions was to institute bag tagging and landfill tipping fees similar to Fort Frances. However, because Emo didn’t have the data to study to find the impact of such measures, that decision couldn’t be made at this time. The data is now being collected to further explore the potential for revenue that would support the ongoing maintenance of the landfill.

A review of costs also revealed several areas that needed revised fee schedules – including memorial benches. Currently, residents can purchase a memorial bench for $1,000 in memory of a loved one.

However, the price paid doesn’t come close to covering the expense of buying and installing the benches.

“They are well over $1,500 now,” Gray said. “The plaque that goes out for engravement is running towards $500 to get done. That’s not even including the costs on the municipality for our workers to prepare a site and have a cement pad put down. We got the estimated cost of $2,500, but with the way prices of everything are going up, that may soon be redundant. We want the option of being able to get cost recovery while offering this program.”

Brown says he knows that tax hikes aren’t going to help the elected council during an election year, but the town is at a point where things need fixing.

“I’ve done lots of budgeting,” Brown said. “You know you’ve got the political animal that wants to keep their constituents happy,” Brown said. “But if you manage towns, you’ve got to have enough money to provide all the services and you have to keep infrastructure in play, and you’ve got to maintain the town, so it looks half decent. It’s a balancing act. Being a municipal politician in this day and age is tough. We’re coming out of COVID, and society is changing.”