WINDSOR – After three nights of deliberations, Windsor town council has the framework ready for the town’s next budget.
They’re proposing that tax rates will stay the same at $1.90 per $100 of residential assessment and $3.99 per $100 of commercial assessment.
Council is expected to vote on the budget later this month.
A major theme throughout the discussions was the sewage treatment plant, which is currently under construction.
Chief Administrative Officer Louis Coutinho said the plant pushed Windsor to the limits of the town’s debt service ratio.
This means that the town can no longer borrow money for projects — so all other capital projects need to be funded from town reserves.
Council said that they were required to build the facility due to upcoming regulations from the federal government that would make it illegal for municipalities to pump raw sewage into bodies of water.
“I completely concur with Coun. (Dave) Seeley that the federal government was absolutely delusional forcing us to build a $12-million sewage treatment plant,” said Coun. Scott Geddes. “They could care less what happens to the towns. I find it disgusting what they’ve done to us.”
The funding for the $11.5 million facility was split three ways between the town, province and federal government, although council said they’re bearing the brunt as they’re just a small municipal unit.
Geddes said it’s important to remain financially prudent for this council’s last budget before the next election.
“We may have to make some really difficult decisions, but it’s something we have to do,” he said. “I do not believe in passing this forward to the next council.”
Acting mayor John Bregante said the budget was a tough one.
“Other things are on the back burner for a couple of years while we get that built, because that put a big jump on our debt service ratio,” Bregante said. “We’re near that threshold and the province will watch us closely to make sure we bring everything back into line.”
Bregante said he wasn’t concerned about council dipping into the reserves to pay for other capital projects.
“That’s what reserves are put in place for, times like this, and we’ve been very prudent over many years by putting money aside,” he said. “We will still have money put aside for capital reserves because next year, the next council will be looking at the potential purchase of a replacement fire truck, because we’ve got a couple of trucks nearing the end of their life.”
Bregante said council is still working towards amalgamation, but in the meantime, they must ensure the town is financially solvent with this year’s budget.
“We’re hoping the province comes through and cost shares on the funding,” he said.
Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess said this year’s budget was the most difficult yet, following the end of the service agreement with West Hants in 2015.
“Given the situation we’re in, we definitely have a transition to manage,” Burgess said. “We’re ensuring the town service doesn’t fall away, that was the priority.”
Burgess said the full transition will take at least two years.
“Not knowing what amalgamation might bring, we’re ensuring we’re being safe going forward,” he said.
Burgess said they’ve received fewer calls from outside the town since the agreement with West Hants ended.
The fire department will maintain two full-time employees including the chief and a maintenance staffer. A third party company that was contracted for cleaning services won’t have their contract renewed. The maintenance staff will now handle all cleaning.
Burgess said training costs have risen for new and existing volunteer firefighters.
Honourariums and awards/banquets for volunteer firefighters have also been cut down to reduce costs, Burgess said.
VanEssa Roberts, with the town’s community development, tourism and recreation department, says they’re having issues getting volunteers to help out with events and festivals, meaning paid staff have to pick up the slack.
Geddes asked why the town was supporting festivals and programs that happen outside the town, or where the majority of participants come from out of town.
Roberts said economic spinoff does come to the town from outside events and users.
“I’m looking for anywhere we can save five cents at this point,” Geddes said.
Todd Richard, the director of public works, said the big elephant in the room —the sewage treatment plant — is taking the oxygen out of other capital budget projects for the time being.
He added that major projects like the Gerrish Street facelift and upgrades to the aging sewer system are still priorities for the department.
Coutinho said there was very little growth in assessment, meaning revenue from taxation is fairly flat compared to last year.
Coutinho said that Windsor’s residents will continue to bear one of the heaviest tax burdens in the province.
“Our taxes are in the Top 5 for the (residential) tax effort,” Coutinho said.
“Council gave specific direction that the tax rate was to be affordable; that we were to maintain existing services levels and standards; and that we continue to seek better cost sharing models and partnerships with service providers or those who use our services,” he added.
• Windsor expects to raise $7.6 million in revenue, mainly from residential and commercial taxation. Nearly 80 per cent of revenue comes from residential tax and sewer rates.
• RCMP costs, which are the highest expenditure for the town at $1,870,000, rose by 5.3 per cent this year.
• The Birthplace of Hockey Arena project will receive $1 million from the town over the next five years.
• Cutting King’s Transit saved the town approximately $116,000 this year.
• Amalgamation studies could cost up to $200,000, but council is hopeful that the provincial government will cost share.
• Planning and development department costs are down 5.3 per cent largely because the department is outsourced through the Town of Wolfville.