Council update – more budget talks

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The regularly scheduled meeting of North Dundas Council on February 29 opened with a lighthearted moment, as Mayor Tony Fraser honoured the terms of a wager made with Mayor Jason Broad of South Dundas. Mayor Fraser wore a Morrisburg Lions jersey for the duration of the Council meeting, since the Lions beat the North Dundas Rockets in their most recent game. 

After a short closed session regarding the proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land by the Township, Council returned and jumped into regular business. A motion to improve the job benefits afforded to Township employees was put forward first.

These benefits included items such as long term disability coverage, and drug, health, and extended health coverage. Interim CAO Benjamin de Haan explained that the recommended increases in benefits would cost taxpayers $21,750 in 2024. He also argued that the Township needs to be careful not to “fall behind” on expected employee benefits in this day and age. There was much discussion between members of Council on the matter. The motion passed. 

More Township compensation policies were up for discussion next, including the elimination of the “student minimum wage”, and an introduction of a top up clause in the parental leave policy. Council members agreed that the Township needs to take steps to ensure the retention of skilled, knowledgeable staff. 

Another important item of business relates to the construction of the new Dundas Manor building, and the resulting increase in truck traffic in the residential streets of Winchester. Calvin Pol, Director of Development Services, explained that some concerns were brought forward by parents and Winchester Public School administration about the safety of students who are walking to and from school during the construction. A motion was therefore put forward to prohibit truck traffic on Clarence Street between the construction site and St. Lawrence Street during the hours of 9:00 to 9:30 am, and 3:30 to 4:00 pm. There is also a provision to restrict parking in the area while the construction is ongoing. Council members were very positive about the recommendation, saying that it shows community spirit in the sense that many key players were willing to work together to find a solution. The motion passed. 

Routine matters followed, including motions related to drainage assessment, and the selection of contractors to conduct drainage work. Council then heard a report from Meaghan Meerburg regarding a recommended minimum insurance requirement of $5 million for facility rentals in the Township. The motion put before Council also had a provision to give local non-profit groups that benefit the community up to 6 free facility rentals per year. It passed. 

Next came a recommendation that Council allow an application for a grant which would fund a majority of a water main looping project that would add water redundancy to the west end of Winchester – the purpose of this is to ensure continuation of water service in the event of an issue in the west end of Winchester, such as a water main break. 

Finally, after over 90 minutes, the perhaps most anticipated part of the meeting came: the second round of draft budget discussions. The Township’s Treasurer, John Gareau, gave a recap of budget highlights, and added an important point of clarification likely meant to calm concerns about the proposed 14.7% municipal tax increase this year. John pointed out that the 14.7% does not represent an increase to each household’s entire tax bill, but rather only the Township portion which is 39% of the total tax bill. Of the amount paid by each household, 49% goes to the United Counties of SD&G, and 12% goes to the education levy. The latter two contributions have increases of their own, but well below the Township’s proposed 14.7% increase. Residents who had been calculating their new bill by adding 14.7% to their entire annual tax bill therefore calculated a number that is higher than the actual increase, but the proposed municipal increase is still high compared to surrounding municipalities. 

The updated draft budget shows a drop in almost $2 million in the Township’s reserve fund between 2022 and the end of 2024, though John cautioned that this is an estimate only. John explained some of the projects for which the Township has taken a financial hit recently, including road work, the Boyne Road Landfill expansion, the purchase of a new road grader to help maintain some of the unpaved roads in the Township, and a recreational ice resurfacer. 

Some minor changes to the previous draft budget version were explained for Council to consider. One change that will be of note to residents is a proposal for increased tipping fees at the Boyne Road Landfill, resulting in a potential revenue increase of $10,000 for the year. 

Meaghan Meerburg, Director of Recreation and Culture, gave a brief comment about the recreation portion of the budget. The Township is anticipating a “recreation master plan” to accompany the new budget, with the aim of addressing some issues including a health unit directive for upgrades to the Township’s two public pools. “It’s hard because your department took the most cuts,” said Councillor John Lennox to Director Meerburg. “Yet your department is the one which everyone complains about, where we need more services, we need more this and that. Well, do you want a 20% tax increase, or do you want something sustainable?”

Likely feeling public pressure, Deputy Mayor Theresa Bergeron took an opportunity to address the public regarding the pressures that the Township is facing, budget wise. She explained that tax increases in previous years have often been “below the cost of living”, and that a large increase in expenses has been felt lately due to “a huge amount of growth in a short time”. She gave an example of some residents requesting that a 3.5 km stretch of their road be paved, and mentioned that the cost of paving this road alone would add over 9% to the municipal budget. She also commented that North Dundas is unique in the sense that it has two pools and two arenas (as well as other recreational amenities such as 8 community halls) to maintain, using taxpayer money from just 4,600 homes. “If we don’t increase, you won’t be getting these services,” Mayor Bergeron added. “I’m not here to be popular, I’m just here to do my job.” She further pointed out that municipal councillors resigning their role in Canada is becoming more common due to the stress, with a helpline even set up to assist struggling Council members. 

Following a late-in-the-meeting break, Council discussed less heavy matters, including updates from various committees. The meeting adjourned after just under 3 hours. 

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