News Local

City hammers out 2018 budget

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer

That's a wrap.


Pembroke's finance and administration committee finished off its work at forging the 2018 spending plan for the city, and were mostly pleased with being able to keep the overall tax bill down to a less than two per cent increase.

For the average residential household assessed at $183,500, the combined bill of taxes, water and sewer rates, education, trash and recyclable pick up works out to be $4,315, or $69 more than 2017, or about a 1.63 per cent overall increase. Taxes alone were held to .93 per cent, or close to a one per cent increase.

Multi-residential properties, assuming eight units, will pay $26,745 or $157 more than last year, with retail (assessed at $212,500) looking at a bill of $10,269, or $76 more.

The industrial class will see a whopping 22.4 per cent tax rate decrease, meaning a property assessed at $184,700 will look at an all-inclusive municipal bill of $10,890, down by $2,004 from 2017.

LeeAnn McIntyre, city treasurer, said what one pays is based on what one is assessed with, and whether that has increased, stayed the same or dropped since the last year's billing.

“Assessment change is a big player in the equation,” she said.

Mayor Michael LeMay was pleased with the end result,m especially being able to reduce the industrial class tax rates so dramatically. He said this will go far in assisting the city's economic development activities, and act as a lure for investment and new business.

One fly in the ointment was a nasty surprise from the County of Renfrew and the city's bill for their shared cost programs. Expecting at most a two per cent increase, the city was hit with a 3.2 per cent increase in their share of the costs, amounting to an extra $113,122 staff had to find to balance the books.

McIntyre said this increase was partially due to an increase in the number of former and current Pembroke residents now living in Miramichi Lodge and Bonnechere Manor, with the city billed by the individual.

LeMay said he was really upset with this, noting the city does want to pay its fair share of the shared cost programs with the county, with this year's share amounting to $3.6 million, but the municipality doesn't get any real say in how the money is spent, and wondered if the agreements Pembroke is tied to are realistic any more, considering they were first forged in 1971.

“Some of these agreements are fairly old and we need to sit down and negotiate these to update them,” LeMay said. He said he will be meeting with the county Thursday to get a more detailed explanation of the cost breakdowns.

The mayor said he will be seeking a joint meeting between the county and the city to discuss the state of the shared cost agreements.

As the finance committee worked towards wrapping things up, Coun. Andrew Plummer stated he had several more places to cut in order to drive the budget closer to a zero per cent increase.

In particular, he chafed at the $100,000 set aside in the capital budget to do foundation repointing along the driveway beside City Hall, saying that was too much money to spend for the actual work at hand.

“I think that is way out of line,” Plummer said, noting this driveway has been done already, and felt this work could be done in-house for less than $1,000. He suggested council cut this item completely in order to save the cash.

When asked by committee members for details, Brian Lewis, operations manager, said this is a preventative measure to keep water from getting into the building and causing damage to its foundation. He said so far there is no evidence water has seeped in yet, but if the city waits until it is seen, the damage could have already been done.

Lewis added the building's limestone construction makes it particularly vulnerable to water damage and its freeze-thaw cycle.

Mayor LeMay asked if this was something which could be put off a year, or is there any other sources of money within the operations department to deal with it. Lewis said his department has been cut to the point there is little to spare financially. He also couldn't confirm whether waiting a year is a good idea or not, and offered no guarantees as to the state of the foundation as a result.

Lewis said some work could be done on the inside in the basement, such as evaluating any presence of water or damage and detecting it or commence repairs if necessary before it becomes a problem.

McIntyre said there is a long list of things which need work on City Hall, as it is a very old building. She said of more immediate importance is the state of the building's windows, which need replacement.

McIntyre said the savings on heating bills alone will pay for the cost of doing it.

Terry Lapierre, the city's CAO, said City Hall is an iconic building for Pembroke, and needs some TLC. He said the city has already invested in the fire and police stations, so what about City Hall?

The finance committee voted to reallocate the $100,000 to be used to evaluate what needs to be done to City Hall, and then do something about it, such as replacing some if not all of the windows.

Plummer voted against the motion, saying he didn't find the $100,000 to reallocate it, but to cut it entirely from the city's spending plan in order to lessen the impact on ratepayers.

The city's budget, water and sewer rates for 2018 will be brought before council for ratification during the Feb. 20 council meeting. 

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