Roads department eying up lean SD&G budget

County Engineer Ben de Haan, left, and Treasurer Vanessa Metcalfe present the roads budget to county council on Feb. 17, 2015. The draft budget is calling for a 7.1 per cent decrease but councillors are looking at a plan to add $2.3 million of additional roadwork to the budget which would evaporate those potential monies back to the taxpayer. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)

SD&G – While the draft SD&G budget has an overall decrease in the county portion of property taxes, the likelihood ratepayers will see those savings on their tax bill is slim.

The draft budget before SD&G councillors Tuesday afternoon is calling for a decrease of 7.1 per cent or 36 fewer dollars on the typical household tax bill once you factor in municipal assessment.

The big factors are a savings of $1.4 million on a new O.P.P. billing model and an unexpected jump in the tax base ($685,000 in new assessment growth), which left the county with a $447,401 surplus at the end of 2014.

But SD&G councillors are being presented with this “unique financial situation” as an opportunity to close an infrastructure funding gap and address one of the main responsibilities of the county – roads.

Staff are recommending a rate of inflation increase (also known as a COLA, or cost-of-living increase) which would provide an additional $2.3 million for roads and bridges.

The practice wouldn’t be outside the norm as COLA has been done in previous years and nearly 46 per cent of all county taxes go toward roads.

Discussion late Tuesday afternoon had councillors throwing out their “pet projects” they would like to see addressed such as County Road 14 in Newington.

Councillors Jim Bancroft and Tammy Hart also highlighted concerns about the condition of County Roads 12, 14 and 11.

Roads Supervisor Ben de Haan has a five option plan which includes additional resurfacing, complete paving, a priority list of roads and two scenarios of banking the money as part of a long term road management plan.

The roads budget ended up coming in slightly under-budget at the end of 2014, mostly due to a quiet December. The department overspent on plowing (over by $251,000) but made up the overrun by not spending as much on salt and sand last year (under budget $389,000).

As part of his departmental budget, de Haan is proposing a nearly doubling on the winter maintenance reserve to $225,000 as an insurance policy against another harsh winter.

The roads issue will continue when the meeting reconvenes Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. at the United Counties building on Pitt Street.

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