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Budget sees small tax hike

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Council's budget has been balanced and with it comes a small tax increase for property owners.

Town treasurer Dawn Galusha made a presentation to council during its regular meeting on Monday evening that revealed a 1.13 percent tax increase for residential properties.

On a $100,000 home this equates to $20.67 more being paid in property tax each year.

“Council has a difficult task of balancing the needs of the community, maintaining acceptable service levels, and making every effort to strengthen the local economy, while providing fairness in taxation and value in service to our residence,” noted Galusha during the budget presentation.

The town's 2019 operating expenses totalled roughly $23.15 million which is up by about $825 thousand from last year.

Council said it's important to note that uncontrollable expenses make up 44.9 percent of the town's budget each year. These expenses include levies to the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, police, school boards, and Northwestern Health Unit, as well as tax write-offs.

“Costs that we can't control the magnitude of constitute a really big part of local government budgets, and that uncontrollable portion has been growing year after year,” Coun. Douglas Judson noted on Monday evening.

Costs being passed on by the province to the municipality may also account for an increasingly large portion of its increased spending each year.

Coun. Judson said it's important for the public to understand that when higher levels of government talk about fiscal responsibility but are balancing their budgets on the backs of municipalities, they're not making life easier or less expensive for Ontarians.

These added costs are accommodated through tax increases or service cuts.

“At the end of the day, there is only one taxpayer," Coun. Judson said. "New costs must either be accommodated through tax increases or service cuts.”

“Governments that preach about fiscal responsibility while making cuts that create new costs for other levels of government aren't doing the taxpayer any favours,” he added.

Coun, Judson noted that there are also certain services that are better delivered by higher levels of government because that level of government has more buying power or can achieve economies of scale.

“The question—if we want consistent levels of public service—is what level of government is best positioned to deliver a service in the most cost effective way,” Coun. Judson remarked.

"The indiscriminate cuts to Ontario Library Service North are but one example where municipal taxpayers will have to make up the difference or accept lesser service.

“That is a scary proposition for a small community where your council is a part-time decision-making body facing ever-increasing and complex challenges that require more and more reflection about how we can achieve the same results fewer resources,” he added.

Coun. Wendy Brunetta said she learned while attending the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) conference in late April that the Ministry of Health is making municipalities pay more for their health units.

Mayor June Caul said that's “another expense we're certainly not looking forward to getting stuck with.”

Meanwhile, the town's reserve funds are a critical component of its long-term financial plan.

“Building of reserve funds is primarily accomplished through the allocation of annual operating surplus, and operating budget allocation to reserve funds to maintain asset management strategies,” noted Galusha.

Reserve funds help the town tackle unexpected expenses, provide financing of capital assets for future replacements, and allow for flexibility in managing debt.

The 2019 general operating budget allocates just over $1.5 million to corporate vehicles/equipment, projects, and building reserve fund.

While just over $110 thousand went to the post landfill closure reserve fund and $7,000 went into the Towshend Theatre reserve fund.

As of Dec. 31, 2018 the town had about $13.45 million in reserve funds and the estimate for the end of 2019 is a little over 14.67 million.

The town's long-term debt at the end of 2018 was just over $1.35 million.

The municipality is currently on a pay-as-you-go plan and the long term debt repayment part of the 2019 operating budget was close to $400,000.

In this year's budget, council introduced the Municipal Accommodation Tax where accommodation providers were mandated by-law to collect and remit a four percent tax on hotel stays.

Half of the collected money will be distributed to the Rainy River Future Development Corp. and the funds will be used for the exclusive purpose of tourism promotion and development in the town.

The other half of the collected tax will go into a dedicated reserve fund which will be utilized for tourism and economic development priorities as established through the planning process of the town

The budget process began in early December with a public meeting that was followed by a series of the committee of the whole meetings were held from January 21 to April 1, 2019.

At these meetings council evaluated and reviewed requests while formulating their budget for 2019.

Council will vote to approve the budget at their next council meeting on May 27.

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