St. Marys Journal Argus
Town of St. Marys Treasurer David Jansuenne, pointing to what he called a “modest one per cent increase” in the municipal portion of the property taxes for St. Marys residents in 2014, said at last week’s Public Meeting about the town’s proposed budget that, “if you’re like me, keeping up with all the other local municipalities, (that’s) phenomenal.”
Response from the audience at this year’s meeting, which in relation to past proposed budgets has ranged from polite acceptance to open hostility, certainly leaned heavily towards the former. About two dozen members of the public were in attendance; only a handful stepped to the microphone following Janseunne’s presentation; less than half of those raised particular concerns regarding the 2014 document — which was up for final Town Council approval at its regular meeting on Tuesday, March 25.
It couldn’t be argued, however, that everyone in attendance agreed with the treasurer’s comparative assessment.
Home and business owner Al Strathdee engaged Town CAO Kevin McLlwain in a brief back-and-forth discussion of the “mill rate” used to calculate the municipal portion of property taxes. Strathdee suggested the rate used by nearby municipalities, including Perth South, is lower than that used by the Town of St. Marys.
“My fear is that we’re losing industry and commercial development” as a result of the unfavourable comparison.
McLlwain responded that municipalities like Stratford and London can take advantage of the “economies of scale” provided by higher population levels in order to provide land use services at a lower cost per unit. Strathdee asked that McLlwain speak directly to the comparison with Perth South, and the CAO answered: “Sure, but they also don’t provide the level of services that we provide . . . They’re not very comparable in that way.”
Gerry Teahen, meanwhile, asked Janseunne to expand upon the numbers in a graph about the Pyramid Centre debt. The graph revealed a significant decrease for 2014 in the amount of money coming in through donations for the recreation and social service complex.
Teahen, a former mayor and Town councillor, asked if the sudden decrease came about as a result of delinquent supposed donors. Janseunne replied that’s not the case — and then Councillor Tony Winter jumped in and reminded Teahen that the 2014 drop-off was something that had been predicted when the donation format was established during the Pyramid Centre construction phase.
Teahen then conceded that was the case, but suggested the Town should have done more with the knowledge about the projected drop-off. The additional $123,000 that must now be taken from taxes to manage the complex’s debt, he said, represents a 1.2 per cent increase in the tax levy — something that caused the Finance department to look to other areas to ease the hit on taxpayers.
“Why wasn’t that being prepared for?” asked Teahen.
Property owner and former councillor Stan Fraser offered some commentary about the $1.56 million set aside in the budget for an environmental assessment (EA) into the future of the Water Street and Wellington Street bridges. Mayor Steve Grose had earlier told the meeting his own personal feeling on the Water Street structure — that it needs to be replaced with a two-lane bridge — but quickly followed that up with the statement that the matter had not yet been debated by Council and would not be until the EA is completed.
Fraser told councillors not to hold their breath.
After first hearing from Councillor Bill Osborne that an EA might even recommend a new bridge “in (Fraser’s) part of town” (Skunk’s Hollow, east of the London Bridge train trestle), Fraser said, “if you haven’t got your EA back now, and there hasn’t even been a public meeting for that EA, then there may be nothing happen at all on that bridge in 2014.”
Grose, however, stressed to public meeting attendees that setting aside money for infrastructure in the budget is crucial.
“As every year goes by, we’re getting closer and closer to those big numbers,” he said, referring to a graph showing skyrocketing needs in wastewater and other infrastructure requirements in the town’s 15-year capital plan. “That’s why our reserves are so important, and that’s something that this Council, and the next Council, are going to have to continue to work away at.”