The Municipality of Meaford has begun the process to cut its 2009 proposed operating budget.
Meaford council at a special meeting last Thursday afternoon received an update about the 2009 budget from municipal staff. The initial budget included an 18% increase in local taxes. Council deemed that amount too high and asked staff to bring back a budget with an 8% local increase.
At Thursday’s meeting, members of staff brought forward a budget update that identified more than $800,000 in proposed cuts to the budget that if implemented will achieve the 8% increase council asked for.
"We have worked very hard to make sure you have a budget before you at 8%," said CAO Frank Miele. "We focused on cutting services not mandated by the provincial government," said the CAO.
Council looked over the list of proposed cuts and made general comments and suggestions about the overall budget. No lengthy debate or discussions about the proposed cuts was held at Thursday’s meeting.
Many of the proposed cuts will be controversial with the public. They include: eliminating dust suppression on rural gravel roads to save $100,000, reducing the gravel maintenance budget by $70,000, cutting the municipality’s subsidy for organized sports at the ball park and the arena to save a combined $55,000, eliminate the service to collect leaf and yard waste to save $71,400 and re-organizing the planning department in order to reduce costs in that area by $31,000. The update also proposed cutting staff salary increases proposed in 2009 by $200,000.
"You’re going in the right direction. Thank you, but I’m convinced we can continue. I can see some other areas to cut," said Deputy Mayor Mike Traynor. "We need to set the tone. We’re being told loud and clear that we need to do something here to make the pendulum swing the other way in order to get out of the rut we’re in," said Traynor.
The proposed elimination of the leaf and yard waste collection program generated a significant discussion. The municipality spent a significant amount of money in 2008 upgrading the leaf and yard waste collection station at the 7th Line Operations Centre. The money was spent in order to ensure the collection of that waste material is done within Ministry of the Environment guidelines. Staff are now proposing not to activate that facility and instead leave it unused.
Councillors were concerned about the optics of constructing a facility one year and then keeping it closed the next year. Several councillors suggested the municipality look at a user fee for the collection of leaf and yard waste as a means to add revenue to municipal coffers. CAO Miele said the administration would explore that avenue and report to council about its implications.
The spectre of user fees to collect leaf and yard waste led Mayor Francis Richardson to suggest examining user fees for overall garbage collection.
"Maybe it’s time to eliminate all the free bags and make it a user pay system," said Richardson. "Municipalities are going more and more to user pay systems where they can. We need to look at that," said the Mayor.
Other suggestions to raise money include implementing a business licensing fee for the municipality and bringing in a dog license fee. CAO Miele said staff would investigate the logistics of those ideas.