BY ANDREW SMITH
LISTOWEL – Citing increases beyond their control, North Perth council is considering a levy increase of 4.9 per cent in their 2013 operating budget.
Council held their first budget meeting of the year Monday night, with budget chair Warren Howard making it clear there were a number of hurdles in coming to 4.9 per cent. A loss of $175,000 in Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund hit North Perth disproportionately compared to other municipalities, Howard said, and withheld diversion fees from the Bluewater Recycling Association amounted to $89,000. The ever-increasing cost of the municipality’s OPP contract was also blamed, as reserves set aside to lessen the impact have come to an end.
“Last year we transferred money out of reserves to cushion the impact,” he said. “We’ve reached the end of those reserves, so we’re looking at an increase of $80,000 for police.”
In total, Howard said external factors on the municipal budget account for three per cent of the levy increase, and praised staff for keeping departments costs to a minimum.
“I think you can see that staff here are presenting a budget that is restrained and they worked hard on that,” Howard said. “Earlier versions of this budget were more serious in terms of levy increases.”
With that in mind, Howard said staff would be hard-pressed to make further cuts in this year’s budget without seeing a significant loss of services or programs.
“The sense I get from conversations at this point is if you want to see further cuts, it will likely mean reductions in service,” Howard said. “We’re stuck with these externally-driven factors that are driving up our costs.”
Howard also advised his fellow councillors to look at the big picture during budget discussions, and not to get in the habit of a nickel-and-dime mentality for the $8.5 million operating budget.
“I hope we can keep the discussion focused on bigger items if we have some serious issues to talk about,” he said. “Saving $200 here and there in the budget is not going to solve the problem.”
Another thing to keep in mind, Howard said, was how the deficit of the province could impact the operation of the municipality in 2013.
“I don’t think we can expect any magical resolution to the province’s financial situation next year,” Howard said. “The province is in a very serious financial situation.”
A brief overview of each staff department was heard by council, with more in-depth discussions to start at the next budget meeting on Feb. 13. At this point, Howard said there is potential of reducing the levy increase, but it remains a fine balance with continuing the current level of service.
“I think there were some areas that we were discussing that could change the number,” he said. “I would like to bring it in lower, but at the same time succeeding at that would mean we have to cut services somewhere.”