A 4.57% Cornwall tax increase in ’17? ‘I don’t think so’ says budget chairman

People want fewer taxes but 'everybody wants the services'

In this Nov. 23, 2015, file photo, Coun. Denis Carr listens during a Cornwall city council meeting. Carr believes the proposed 2017 budget won't fly in its current state with a proposed 4.57% residential tax increase. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – As the city’s core budget committee gets ready to meet Wednesday, the chairman of the group suggests the budget won’t pass in its current state.

The budget steering committee will get together Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. to make a recommendation to council on the water and sewer budget while also getting an update from CFO Tracey Bailey on how new property assessment data will affect the core budget.

The water and sewer budget is a proposed 1.43 per cent increase in 2017 or an extra $8 to $11 depending on the water configuration in your home.

As for the city’s core budget, as it stands now, with an average assessment factored in, homeowners would be facing a 4.57 per cent increase in their taxes. That’s roughly an extra $102 a year on a household assessed at $168,000. The committee last met three weeks ago and was told at that time to go away and contemplate a plan for the 2017 budget.

The city will collect 1.57 per cent more in taxes next year, known as the municipal tax levy.

In an interview with Cornwall Newswatch, Denis Carr said it’s up to council to make the tough decisions.

“That’s where we sit today. Is that acceptable? I would say, I don’t think so. So what can we do to reduce it. I think people want to see reductions but at the same time people don’t want to get less for their tax dollar. Everybody wants the services they get and they want to keep them. We have to assure people that we are delivering those services at the most efficient level,” Carr told Newswatch.

“That’s (making cuts) not administration’s job. That’s council job. I would hope we don’t affect services but I don’t know what my colleagues want to do with some of the issues,” Carr said.

“I think that the document that was delivered to council is a very good document. I don’t think there’s anything in there that we can take umbrage with.”

Carr doesn’t see places where the budget could be trimmed per se, but rather council has to ask the tough question. “What business are we in? And I think now we have to determine what businesses are we in. Where should we be spending our money,” Carr said.

One of those businesses is tourism after the United Counties decided to go alone on the tourism portfolio, essentially dissolving Cornwall and the Counties Tourism (CCT).

The city is facing a $201,315 departmental budget for tourism – a 25 per cent increase from the $160,000 it had been paying to CCT.

Carr didn’t expect the tourism budget to be that big. “No, in a short word, no. There’s been a lot of talk about tourism and the city is going to be in involved in tourism. We have to be able to market the city and have the materials and resources available to people who visit us,” he said.

The biggest public criticism of the city budget is usually staff and the costs associated with employees, which take up a lion’s share of the budget. There is a proposal to add one full-time employee to deal with IT (information technology) work ($67,000 salary), as well as a tourism coordinator, administrative assistant and summer student in the tourism department ($137,315 in salaries).

“None of that’s been approved yet. It’s what you’d like to have. I think they’ve put good arguments forward and they’ve justified positions but at the same time we have other positions that need to be filled as well,” Carr said, alluding to a couple of managers set to retire.

With a projected $1 million deficit in 2016, Carr doesn’t believe there will be any surprises in the eleventh hour of “found money” in city coffers of offset a potential tax increase in 2017.