Cuts made to services, grants to local organizations
BY VOICE STAFF
Following requests by Council to return with budget reductions, last Wednesday Town Treasurer Teresa Quinlin presented a list of proposed cuts that would bring the 2018 budget to a 3.5 percent increase.
These cuts include the reduction of Town grants to various local endeavours by $34,500, cutting the tree-planting budget in half, and boosting “supplemental revenue” by an additional $50,000. Quinlin also said that money could be saved by moving a $50,000 snow removal expense to the water and wastewater budget, which is funded by service charges and not property tax increases.
Council approved all of the budgetary changes, with the exception of a proposed cut of $10,000 that is to go towards treating for gypsy moths.
“We more-or-less promised our residents that,” said Councillor Gary Accursi. “What does that ten thousand represent—less than one tenth of one percent? I favour the reductions to 3.5 percent, but with putting the gypsy moth back in.”
Councillor Jim Lane disagreed.
“I’m not sure that $10,000 in the big scheme of things is going to do much on the gypsy moth population,” he said. “If you’re going to do something, be aggressive, don’t just throw ten thousand bucks at it.”
Director of Public Works Andrea Clemencio clarified that the money was to go towards a specific area, where residents had complained about Town trees in a park.
“If you’re going to do an isolated area, and someone else in an isolated area has a problem, are going to do it there, too? Once it’s started, where would it end?” Lane responded.
In addition to the changes that brought the budget to a 3.5 percent increase, Quinlin also listed items that Council could choose to further reduce. Councillors did not have an appetite for these additional cuts.
“I don’t know that I’d be comfortable with the other reductions,” said Mayor Dave Augustyn. “You’re getting very close to the bone here.”
Council eventually voted in favour of the changes that would allow for a 3.5 percent increase, with the inclusion of the gypsy moth money for this year.
In the budget changes that Council did approve, Quinlin outlined a series of alterations to human resources costs that, despite basically netting out to nothing, resulted in substantial discussion.
First, there was confusion as to which positions Quinlin was referring to, since she used different names for the community centre positions than did Human Resources Director Paula Gilbert.
Gilbert and Quinlin had a brief, indirect disagreement, where Gilbert said that she used standardized terms, and that she “didn’t know where” Quinlin had got her terminology. Quinlin responded, several times, by saying that she was using the terms from the senior management team discussion.
After the semantics were tamed, Council looked further at the staffing of the community centre. The week before, staff told Council that an information desk employee had been cut from the budget, but this time the desk had been added back in.
“Why could we not consider using volunteers for this service?” asked Councillor Gary Accursi. “We have seniors always looking for involvement in this community. Always have kids looking for hours from the high school.”
Town Director of Human Resources Paula Gilbert responded by saying that volunteers wouldn’t be able to do the same things as staff, including collecting money.
Director of Recreation Vickie VanRavenswaay said that the Town is “hitting hard” on the seniors’ ambassador program. \
“In the future, it would be ideal if we could have that information centre staffed from early morning to nine at night with community minded people,” she said. “From the get-go, I’m not sure if we can do this.”
Accursi said that he feared that the Town is burdening the facility with excessive amounts of labour cost.
“We don’t know what to expect,” he said. “All that we need is one employee going out to our beloved press, saying that the community centre couldn’t afford to pay a staff member.”
Following Accursi’s grilling over the planned staffing, Mayor Dave Augustyn commented that staff were getting mixed messages from Council.
“Last meeting, we all said, ‘Hey, let’s make sure we have enough people there.’”
“I never said that,” interjected Accursi.
“Well, others did then,” said Augustyn. “Council needs to be certain in deciding this, the direction that we want to go, to make sure that we’re there to welcome people. What I look for is how we’re going to resolve this.”
Augustyn concluded by referencing the new centre’s planned budget, saying that despite everything, the new community centre will be “cheaper than that thing that loses us money on Haist Street.”
“Those arena revenues,” asked Accursi, “are they based on contracts that we’ve entered into? Are they tight numbers?”
Vanravenswaay said that they were.
“Are the salaries that would be expended to run programs allocated to the PCC as well? We haven’t just posted the revenue side? Including the camp counsellors?” he followed up with Vanravenswaay.
She said that the appropriate portions of all salaries, including the camp counsellors, had been included in the community centre’s expenses.
In turning to the capital budget, Council agreed to move up a planned $60,000 expenditure to help drainage in Ridgeville, though it will be done pending the freeing up of funds during the year.
Councillor Peter Papp concluded the meeting by thanking staff for their work on the budget. “This is the most important year in the history of the town. We’re about to take on the most significant, the most difficult, the most rewarding projects of our lifetime. We have established a legacy,” he said.
He commended staff for being resilient throughout what he called a “tumultuous year.”
“To my colleagues,” he said, turning to the other Councillors, “I’d like to see all of us back…We should embrace, fully endorsee, and be very very proud of what we’ve been able to do over the past year, and what we’re going to be doing over the next year and years to come.”