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West Nipissing Council began its budget deliberations on Saturday, February 23, going over results for 2018 and a 2019 starting “wish list” that would see taxes rise by 12.35% , or approximately $188 for an ‘average home’ assessed at $197K, if left unchanged. What follows over the next few weeks is an effort to set priorities and trim costs to avoid such a steep hike.
West Nipissing came in with a surplus of $894,612 at the end of 2018, with much of those funds dedicated to projects that were not completed as budgeted in 2018, and consequently earmarked for completion this year. Municipal treasurer Alisa Craddock explain that most surplus funds rolled into the municipal reserve would be coming back out in 2019. The 2019 budget commenced with a projected deficit of $1,941,887; a starting point only and not reflective of the end budget, reassured CAO Jay Barbeau.
Barbeau also stressed that the 12.35% increase was a starting point, and asked council to consider developing a strategic plan for the community. He noted that while West Nipissing had the distinction of being referred to in MoneySense magazine as the best place in Canada for low taxes in 2018, the price of that honour is the delay of inevitable investments that have to be made in aging infrastructure, and a heftier increase in taxes in subsequent years to address those infrastructure issues. “Trying to pull rabbits out of hats and getting to an acceptable tax levy is getting more difficult,” he opined, adding that uncontrollable costs keep adding up – a full 5.5% of the levy increase was attributed to uncontrollable costs (municipal obligations to the District Health Unit and the Nipissing District Social Services among others).
“When you made the decision last year to lower the tax rate to what it was. … Some of the decisions you made to get there was postponing those expenditures to a future year. When you don’t fix a building, or don’t fix a road… they don’t get any better a year later. That problem is facing this council now,” Barbeau pointed out.
Council agreed that a comprehensive strategic plan with a municipal asset assessment, a familiarization tour by council of all the municipal buildings throughout the different communities, and presentations from various organizations to council, would all assist in determining future financial allocations. A lot of discussion remained focussed on the policing budgets, particularly on the part of Coun. Lise Sénécal, who repeatedly returned to the issue of not having the answers she required, including a breakdown of allocations in 2019 to the WNPS and the OPP.