Screen shot from council Oct. 10, frm left, Councillors Mike Metcalf, Rob Pope and Gene Brahaney.
News of the Hike Wasn’t Well Received by Council
The conservation authority should “take a good hard look” at what it’s requesting “because it’s significant.” Deputy Mayor Mike Metcalf
Article by John Campbell
Campbellford – Fri., Oct. 13, 2023 – Lower Trent Conservation has told Trent Hills it plans to raise the municipality’s levy for operations by 19 per cent in 2024
That works out to an increase of $36,485 to $228,967.
News of the proposed hike wasn’t received well when it came up for discussion at council’s Oct. 10 meeting.
Deputy Mayor Mike Metcalf said the overall increase of 18.8 per cent for the Lower Trent’s seven member municipalities “is not acceptable” and “needs to come down at least 50 per cent” before he will support it. The conservation authority should “take a good hard look” at what it’s requesting “because it’s significant.”
LTC chief administrative officer/secretary-treasurer Rhonda Bateman explained in a letter that the agency was “influenced by several factors” when putting together its budget:
— a 4.9 per cent increase in the Consumer Price Index;
— increases in minimum wages;
— “new CPP enhancement”;
— changes in the Ontario Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (OMERS);
— “a decrease in projected planning and regulations revenue,” and;
— “an anticipated large decrease in surplus funds,” necessitating a request for new levy funding “to sustain the staff complement.”
Bateman said the “surplus has been utilized to fund several staff positions” in recent years. The proposed budget includes a request to convert 2.25 full-time equivalent temporary contracts into full-time and student staffing, “which is responsible for a large proportion of the overall levy increase.”
Metcalf said he would like to know how other conservation authorities are dealing with the same factors Bateman cited because the two he sits on – Crowe Valley and Otonabee — aren’t raising their levy by 18.8 per cent, an increase he said is “not reasonable.”
Councillor Dennis Savery said he also couldn’t support an increase of that size.
“That’s a big stretch, and if every committee that came to us (asked) for that kind of increase … we would be probably bankrupt by the end of the year when we look at our budgets,” he said. “They should go back and sharpen their pencil.”
Councillor Rick English, one of council’s two representatives at the Lower Trent – Gene Brahaney is the other – said he hadn’t been at the September meeting when the draft budget was brought forward but he sympathized with the agency, saying it’s “in a tough spot” and that last year in order “to keep the levy so low … all the reserves were used up.”
Brahaney invited suggestions from council members on what could be done “to slice and dice” programs and services to lower costs which he could then pass on to the conservation authority.
Metcalf said he had none to offer because Bateman’s report “doesn’t give me enough information” to work with but he welcomed the CAO’s offer to visit council to present the budget.
“I’m not here to go line by line” on what changes could be made, he said; it’s the responsibility of the Lower Trent’s CAO and staff “to bring those suggestions to us.”
Council voted to receive the correspondence from Bateman and staff will reach out to her to find out when she’s available to attend a council meeting.
Metcalf said he would like to see is “how would it work out if things are pulled from that budget” because “it needs to be looked at, in my opinion.”
The budget is scheduled for approval at the agency’s Nov. 9 meeting.
Total expenditures are projected to rise by 8.5 per cent to $2,972,991 but the municipal general levy will need to increase by 18.8 per cent to $1,299,983 for the reasons Bateman gave.
Lower Trent’s six other member municipalities – Brighton, Quinte West, Centre Hastings, and the townships of Alnwick-Haldimand, Cramahe, and Stirling-Rawdon – are looking at levy increases ranging from 18.2 per cent to 20.2 per cent.
Dollar-wise, Trent Hills’ increase is the second largest, behind Quinte West ($92,171), and just ahead of Brighton ($36,123).
“The apportionment of the general levy is based on the portion of the current value assessment in each municipality relative to the total current value assessment for the watershed,” Bateman explained in her letter.