CORNWALL – “I think every council member is going to agree the number’s way, way too high.”
Those thoughts from Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy after city council got its first glimpse at the 2015 budget, which projects an overall tax increase of 3.69 per cent, once you factor in your municipal assessment.
That would be an extra $83 a year for the average homeowner.
The $165 million dollar budget calls for the corporation to collect 5.58 per cent more taxes than it did last year (roughly $3.4 million).
“I always believed the goal should be zero. Whether we’re going to be able to reach it or not is certainly up in the air,” O’Shaughnessy told Cornwall Newswatch.
“We got some really bad news, now it’s how we address it,” the mayor said. “We’re certainly going to have to become creative in this budget.”
He’s referring to a reduction in transfer payments from the Ontario government (roughly $1.5 million) and a significant increase in the tax rebate program which allowed Smart Centers to develop the old Domtar “No Corrode” plant site at Cumberland and Seventh Streets.
There also an increased cost of $221,000 for the city’s share of EMS units to address response times in South Glengarry and South Stormont. But City CFO Maureen Adams explained to council the 50 per cent cost sharing with the province doesn’t kick in until 2016, meaning Cornwall and the United Counties have to split the cost 40-60 this year.
While most of the emergency services budget is contractual obligations for salaries and benefits, Mayor O’Shaughnessy sees other areas where things could be cut.
“You see from the outside agencies where there’s a request. Let’s take the airport commission where they’re asking for $211,560…it’s not something we have to commit to this year,” the mayor said.
“It’s going to be a really interesting process.”
Coun. Mark MacDonald has his sights set on police, fire and EMS.
“We have some work to do because the numbers are disproportionate with respect to the emergency services budgets and everybody else…that’s going to be where the real work is,” he told Cornwall Newswatch.
CFO Maureen Adams warned council another liability is possibly having to refund taxes paid on three of the city’s distribution centers (DC). Target, Walmart and Shopper’s Drug Mart have all filed appeals on the valuation of their properties. A ruling from the Assessment Review Board (ARB) could leave the city on the hook for millions of dollars.
For example, a 10 per cent correction in assessment on those three DC’s over the four year assessment period (2013-2016) would cost the city $2.2 million. The city wants to put away $400,000 this year into a reserve to pay for that possible future correction.
This and more will be tackled later this month when the city starts on its schedule of five all-day meetings (Thursday Jan. 29, Friday Jan. 30, Friday Feb. 6, Friday Feb. 13 and Friday Feb.20) to work picking apart the draft budget.
The budget steering committee is made up of the entire city council.