Sandy Casselman
LJI Reporter

MORRISBURG – The 2021 Municipality of South Dundas budget has been completed, ending with a 1.24 per cent tax rate increase and a 1.76 per cent tax levy increase.

The municipality’s budget meetings were held in council chambers Feb. 23 and Feb. 25. At the start, the tax rate increase was at 2.94 per cent and by the end of the two-day deliberations council had managed to cut it back to a 1.24 per cent tax rate increase.

The process began at 9 a.m. last Tuesday with opening remarks from the mayor and council. It was noted at the outset that an increase or decrease of one per cent to the tax rate would equate to $75,000.

“I will commend staff for coming back with a budget that’s at least reasonable to start,” Mayor Steven Byvelds said. “In reading this budget, I think it’s good. It’s workable. My goal, if I was going to state a goal with staff starting at 2.94, would be two or less.”

Deputy-Mayor Kirsten Gardner said setting the annual budget is one of council’s most important responsibilities. She, along with Councillors Lloyd Wells, Don Lewis, and Archie Mellan agreed with the mayor.

“We are taking on some big projects that the residents really wanted to get done and, unfortunately, they do cost a lot of money,” Gardner said. “I know it’s been a really hard year for lots of our residents in South Dundas. The pandemic has not only had a huge toll on people financially, but also mentally and it’s been draining.”

Mellan said he would rather “slim and trim” the budget, than “flash and burn.” He said the first instinct is to cut as much as possible because of the financial strain of COVID-19, but this would be a mistake in the long run. Keeping tax increases low at the expense of needed municipal services, such as the Williamsburg Landfill, would be detrimental and foolish, he said.

CAO Shannon Geraghty said staff wanted to create a budget that would ensure residents continued receiving the same services, as well as allow the township to honour its commitments, maintain its facilities, and plan for long-term asset management. Treasurer Sarah McMillan provided an update and an overview of what to expect during the two-day budget deliberation process.

“The draft budget as presented is a 2.96 tax rate increase and 3.49 tax levy increase. Council should note the growth for 2021 was very minimal at .43 per cent, and this can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) postponed the 2020 assessment update and they essentially froze the assessment for the majority of properties in South Dundas,” McMillan said.

At the outset of the meeting, McMillan noted that the budget included a 0.7 per cent CPI increase for staff wages, amounting to $23,500. Near the end of the second day of deliberations, council debated whether to give the raise. Both Gardner and Wells voted against the raise, noting concerns about residents who are suffering, as well as those without jobs. They did note that their decision was not a reflection on staff, but rather a reaction to the current circumstances.

On the opposing side, Lewis and Mellan voted for the raise increase. Lewis felt staff deserved the raise, while Mellan focused on the fact that not paying it this year would lead to paying more next year. In the end, with a tied vote, it was the mayor who made the decision to keep the pay raise in the budget.

“If we were coming at a rate of more than 1.83, then I would say no,” Byvelds said, noting that even with the staff pay increase included, the tax rate increase is now at 1.24 per cent, which is lower than the goal at the outset of deliberations.

The tax levy increase is 1.76 per cent. Council eliminated $126,470 from the budget. The average household increase will equate to $13.41. Mayor Byvelds called it a “very lean budget.”

Each council member gave closing comments, noting their hope that residents would approve the outcome. They each thanked staff for their hard work. The two budget meetings can be viewed in their entirety on the municipality’s YouTube channel.

“If next year goes this smoothly, it will be a blessing,” Wells said.