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Council hashing out 2020 budget; hefty hike is expected

After a first session of budget deliberations, WN town officials mentioned the starting position would see an 11.64% tax hike, prompting sensational headlines and public outcry. Following a flurry of inquiries and backlash, Mayor Joanne Savage opened the second session of deliberations with an assurance that taxpayers will not see a double digit increase. “That’s the starting point…. I’m sure it’s not the will of anyone around the table to settle for an increase of 11.64%. It’s a work in progress.”

Savage clarified that the annual deliberations start with a proposed budget as an opening position. The initial working documents include everything but the kitchen sink on the departmental wish lists, and those requests are whittled down to something that council considers reasonable.

The working documents did stipulate that many expenses are out of council’s hands – levies determined by various area boards to which West Nipissing has an obligation to contribute - and this would translate to an unavoidable 4% increase. To that end, throughout the proceedings on Saturday, January 25, and Tuesday evening, January 28, the mayor repeatedly requested that various organizations, such as the DNSSAB (District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board), the NBPSHU (North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit) and the Humane Society, be asked to present a detailed account of the services provided to West Nipissing along with justifications for their 2020 increases.

On the departmental wish lists were seven new positions: a full-time financial analyst and a full time Special Projects Coordinator to work with Corporate Services, a full time licensed mechanic to be shared across departments on all municipal fleets, along with a full time employee for drain maintenance for Public Works; a subforeman, a maintenance worker and a coordinator for Community Services;  and a full time Economic Development Officer. Department heads repeatedly stated that their staff were stretched to the limit, were responding to increased demands, were facing burnout, and needed additional support. While council members could see the justification for positions that would offset costs in other areas, for example an extra mechanic ensuring preventative maintenance to save on downtime and outside repairs, they were not all convinced. “The private sector is also stretched to the limit,” stressed Coun. Denis Sénécal.

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