Residents may see tax hike of 18-20 percent

After council made more cuts— and some adjustments to tax ratios—at a committee of the whole meeting yesterday, it looks as if town residents may be facing a tax increase of 18-20 percent for 2004.
“We are getting down about as far as we can get without shutting facilities down,” Coun. Tannis Drysdale said of the budget process.
“There are few stones left unturned.
“We’re looking at the budget line by line to see where we can find efficiencies,” she added. “Realis-tically, we’re looking at an 18-20 percent residential tax increase.
“I know I’m pleased with that number—it’s a whole lot better than 67 percent.”^One decision the committee of the whole made yesterday was to make use of this week’s provincially- granted flexibility in spreading tax increases more evenly across the various business and residential property classes so that homeowners don’t have to take the full brunt of a tax hike.
They decided to have the large industrial sector pay 50 percent of any increase that residential property owners would, but leave commercial and small industrial rates as they are as these latter two already are the third highest in Ontario, Coun. Drysdale said.
The committee of the whole also agreed to shave $5,000 off councillors’ benefits, cut $28,000 out of council’s public relations budget, and slice $50,000 out of the Pither’s Point Park litigation budget, which previously had been set at $100,000.
These are on top of a zero percent wage increase for town employees this year, among other efficiencies.
As well, the capital budget— which once was around $6 million (half of which was to come from government grants)—has been trimmed to just $400,000.
Half of this amount is to be used for the “connecting link” project to repair a portion of King’s Highway, but the province is expected to eventually pay the town back for 90 percent of that $200,000.
The proposed “bag tag” system for garbage collection also was discussed yesterday, noted Coun. Drysdale, adding the 30 tags residents originally were to receive for free as soon as the program is implemented in June instead may be reduced to just five.
As these items are part of the 2004 budget which has not been passed yet, they still are subject to change.
In related news, Darryl Allan, the town’s manager of Information Technology, noted yesterday that some information at Monday’s public meeting should be clarified for the sake of accuracy.
Uncontrollable costs for the 2003 and 2004 budgets were reported as follows:
•Northwestern Health Unit— $280,000 (2003) and $399,300 (2004);
•DSSAB—$1,902,500 and $1,971,972;
•Rainycrest—$565,100 and $582,167; and
•OPP—$1,838,500 and $1,974,504.
This means a budgeted increase of 43 percent, four percent, 16 percent, and 17 percent, respectively, in each uncontrollable category.
But Allan noted the actual increases from 2003 to 2004 likely will be slightly less as all the 2003 levies ended up being more than the town budgeted for.For instance, the 2003 health unit levy ended up being $293,486 (as opposed to $280,000), so the actual increase in 2004 is 36 percent as opposed to 43.
The difference for DSSAB was one percent, 12 percent for Rainycrest, and nine percent for policing.