News Local

Petawawa keeps 2018 tax rate at five per cent

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

Sean Chase/Daily Observer 
Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet reviews the 2018 municipal budget Thursday with chief administrative officer Dan Scissons (left) and treasurer Annette Mantifel. Council cut $1.6 million in order to keep the  notional tax rate to a five per cent increase over last year.

Sean Chase/Daily Observer Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet reviews the 2018 municipal budget Thursday with chief administrative officer Dan Scissons (left) and treasurer Annette Mantifel. Council cut $1.6 million in order to keep the notional tax rate to a five per cent increase over last year.

PETAWAWA – Mayor Bob Sweet congratulated council and staff for developing a balanced budget that won't put the town into debt while paying for critical infrastructure.

After a day-long workshop at the town hall Thursday, council went through a $17.4 million budget that initially exceeded revenues by $2 million. By the end of the session, councillors trimmed $1.6 million. Notionally that puts the municipal tax rate at $809 for a home with an average assessment of $243,500.

“We had to do what we think is right for the taxpayer as a whole,” Sweet told council and department heads. “Unfortunately we can't afford everything but this is a critical budget and there's a lot in here that is being accomplished and we've done it with no debt going forward.”

Presenting the draft budget, treasurer Annette Mantifel explained that the current value assessment returned on the roll for the 2018 taxation exceeded $1.89 billion and represented a 1.47 per cent increase over last year. The total, based on a 2016 valuation date, reflects the second year of the four-year phase-in of reassessment increases from the 2012 base year. The town's weighted net assessment growth is 1.3 per cent.

This is the second year that council has conducted early budget deliberations. Mantifel said they had to set a notional tax rate while facing several unknowns including finding tax room in other areas. The County of Renfrew has yet to set its levy. In addition, the province has yet to announce what they will charge property classes for education purposes. Staff were directed to bring their department budgets in with a three per cent increase, a factor that is becoming increasingly difficult, admitted chief administrative officer Dan Scissons.

“Remaining within such limited parameters is increasingly problematic if not impossible,” said Scissons. “Addressing asset management, appropriately funds to reserves for future capital, maintaining our high level of services to the public and building the bureaucracy suitable to manage this growing, dynamic community all comes at a significant cost.”

The town was also being hampered by provincial legislation, including Bill 148 or the minimum wage increase, which is equated to a two per cent increase in the tax levy before even getting into expenditures for core services, Scissons added. In addition, council was further constrained by cuts in transfer payments. Petawawa will received $468,400 from the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund, a drop of $82,000 from 2017. The federal gas tax did go up slightly to $509,233. The OPP will be charging Petawawa $1.75 million for policing this year. As well, the town is also maintaining $3.3 million in reserves.

Faced with a shortfall of $2,037,404, council agreed to start with a five per cent increase, which would have raised $365,896 in revenue, as a target leaving $1.67 million to cut. However, Councillor Theresa Sabourin said that, faced with the reality that costs are rising and infrastructure has to be paid, council should pursue a higher rate if necessary.

“We have some pretty big responsibilities and we benefit from living in Petawawa and it costs money to provide the level of service we have historically provided,” she said. “A five per cent increase is the absolute minimum.”

Next to Head, Clara, Maria, the town has boasted one of the lowest tax rates in the county, a fact that some councillors felt couldn't be sustained indefinitely given the pressures being faced by the town and all lower tier municipalities to maintain aging infrastructure and meet provincial targets for asset management.

“Five per cent is a reasonable target,” said Councillor James Carmody. “We already enjoy a low tax rate for the services we get.”

Among the projects cut was $718,020 to reconstuct John Street complete with sidewalks and storm sewers. The $450,000 Schwantz Road reconstruction project was reduced to two phases meaning $250,000 will be spent this year to resurface half a kilometre of roadway. Council decided against putting $200,000 into the reserves for a new sand dome, as well as $25,000 for a bush truck for the fire department. Councillors also decided against paying $93,600 for a volunteer firefighter to man a station on 12 hour shifts from Monday to Friday to guarantee a minimum response to any emergency call. Fire chief Steve Knott said this was a strategy in response to a situation last year in which no members showed up for three false alarm calls during the week.

“I am worried thatthe town would be held liable,” said Knott should another incident arise where there is a zero response, “especially if there's a coroner's inquest.”

Council wanted to know what cost savings would be had from employing a firefighter full-time. Knott said he couldn't know precisely until the department's membership entered into collective bargaining negotiations in 2019. Without a business case, council agreed to defer a decision on the salary until then.

Another $150,000 was cut from the parks and recreation department's reserve for a new arena floor at the Petawawa Civic Centre. They did agree to shift $100,000 to the arena reserve bringing it up to $624,357. The department also lost $45,000 to build a new backstop at Petawawa Indians Diamond and $32,000 to replace a pick-up truck. Parks and recreation manager Kelly Williams said he hoped to get the estimated $800,000 Civic Centre project on the books for 2020.

“Our challenges continue to be centered around aging infrastructure and meeting the current and future recreation and leisure needs of the community,” he said.

SChase@postmedia.com