by Isabel Mosseler

WN Council gathered on Saturday, Feb. 10 to start this year’s budget deliberations, beginning with a look at 2017 results and all of the department’s “wish lists” for this year. What resulted was some ‘sticker shock’ as the initial budget proposal was said to come with a hefty price tag that would necessitate a 6.68% property tax hike. Council members (minus Coun. Denise Brisson who was vacationing) told staff they wanted the number whittled down, with Coun. Yvon Duhaime being particularly insistent that the hike would have to be 2% or less for him to be agreeable.

2017 surplus, healthy reserves

CAO Jay Barbeau announced that 2017 ended with a surplus of $989K, but he added some words of caution. “Before you say we collected too much from our taxpayers and we didn’t need it… part of that surplus is $75K restitution from one of our court cases… $400K is Nature’s Trail Bridge in Wolesley Bay (construction which didn’t happen in 2017) which had to be carried over... and a variety of little things.” He explained that human resource issues with staff on sick leave, and staff positions which weren’t filled, fed into the surplus. “It brings our general reserve position to an all time high that I’ve never seen before… $3.6M.” He noted that the $400K designated for the Nature’s Trail Bridge is a dedicated fund, and should not be counted as part of the “rainy day fund”, so that the real reserve position is $3.2M.

Municipal treasurer Alisa Craddock walked council through the municipal debt, previous loans, saying that the only new debt in 2017 was related to ongoing Community Services projects. The municipal debt sits at $5.3M while Water & Sewer sits at $8.6M for a consolidated debt of $13.9M. “We’re still well within our ARL (annual repayment limits),” assured Craddock. As for “dedicated reserves”, money set aside to finance future obligations, from the Au Chateau to equipment, infrastructure and capital expenses for all departments, it sat at $2.6M at the end of 2017.

Starting budget proposal would ​see taxes rise over 6%

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Craddock told council that hydro costs in 2017 were lower than expected, largely due to efficiencies put in place by the municipality. She proposed a 4% increase over the actual to be on the safe side for 2018. “Utilities weren’t bad this year.” She also indicated that human resource issues, staff shortages and non-fulfilled positions in Community Services and Public Works contributed to the surplus position, but it also meant not being able to move forward on some projects and placed undue stress on other staff.

Many imposed costs

The various department budgets were up for review, with the exception of the WN Police Services Board, who were presenting this week. The Animal Control budget reflects the contract with the North Bay SPCA with no extra costs, at $89K. Public Health Services project a 0% increase for the second year in a row, at $429K.  District of Nipissing Social Services were reportedly still working on their budget, but Craddock said there would be a larger increase for West Nipissing than the overall budget hike, “because our assessment is growing faster than other communities.” Craddock said she didn’t expect a huge shift, but any shift would not be in West Nipissing’s favour. Based on estimates from DNSSAB, the 2018 portion from West Nipissing would be $2.8M.

For Au Château, Craddock suggested an additional $50K be put in the reserve, bringing the municipal contribution to $1.04M, although the facility had not yet finalized their own budget. Carole Marion presented on behalf of WN Libraries, providing a detailed budget of $538K and a posted reserve of $48K. “We are looking for an $8K increase.” Marion said that libraries will also be drawing from their reserve to renovate the library in Verner, and will be funding tech training for seniors. 

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