Another big jump in staff costs, the township’s largest expense, is driving a six-per-cent tax increase for Woolwich residents this year. That translates into an additional payout of approximately $30 per year on a home with an assessed value of $200,000.
For 2009, the township proposes an operating budget of $10.2 million, an increase of almost 15 per cent over last year’s $8.9 million.
The increase that gained tentative council approval this week would see a four-per-cent jump in the general tax levy; with a further two per cent capital levy for recreation projects – some $114,000 for the fund earmarked for Woolwich’s extensive, township-wide recreational facilities program. That program was put in place in 2005 and runs through 2010, reported director of finance Richard Petherick.
Also approved Tuesday night was a water-rate increase of 9.4 per cent, to $1.24 per cubic metre from $1.14. That represents about an additional $18 to $24 per year for the average household.
The wastewater rate will climb by 13.6 per cent, to $1.48 per cubic metre from $1.30, adding about $32 to $43 per year to the average annual cost.
The entire package was passed in relatively short order, as senior staff assured councillors they had pared down expenditures to a minimum.
Looking for possible savings, especially on infrastructure spending, Coun. Ruby Weber asked if stimulus money announced in last month’s federal budget would be used to reduce Woolwich’s own expenditures.
In response, chief administrative officer David Brenneman noted the township is accelerating engineering and design of projects to take advantage of any money that comes along once the government has released more information.
“If the details say we need to be construction-ready, we want to be ready,” he said.
Councillors focused on the dollar size of the increase, noting Woolwich’s taxes are still much lower than many nearby municipalities.
Each one percentage point increase in taxes amounts to some $57,000 for municipal coffers – about $5 per taxpayer, noted Coun. Mark Bauman.
In a comparison to other communities prepared by Petherick, and based on a three-per-cent increase from last year’s numbers, only North Dumfries residents pay less than Woolwich taxpayers – $369.66 versus $520.70 – on the municipal portion of the taxes applicable to a home assessed at $200,000. Wellesley Township residents pay $742.89; Wilmot $694.33; City of Waterloo $900.16; Kitchener $954.08 and Cambridge $968.21. Nearby municipalities outside Waterloo Region are also higher: Centre Wellington at $677.79; Mapleton Township $752.34 and Guelph-Eramosa $566.64.
There was little discussion, however, of plans to add another four staff positions, three at the Woolwich Memorial Centre slated to open in September and one a contract job to oversee infrastructure projects for the next two years.
Plans to add three more jobs – a human resources coordinator, information technologies administrator and financial analyst – were scrapped at senior management discussions prior to tabling the budget.
Still, the new hires, coupled with a three-per-cent increase in salaries and wages and the full impact of positions added last year – an economic development and tourism officer and a deputy fire chief – means staffing costs will have increased by more than 50 per cent in the past five years, to an estimated $5.2 million this year from $3.4 million in 2004.
As the township’s largest expense at some 52 per cent of the operating budget, staff costs have a major impact on tax increases, which reached six per cent last year as well. While the big jump in staff complement and costs may not translate into noticeable jumps in service levels, much of it has been dictated by provincial regulations, Brenneman argued in a later interview.
The water/wastewater supervisor position added last year, for instance, was a direct result of the increasing regulatory burden post-Walkerton, he said.
“When we looked at our legislative requirements and the collective agreement [with outside workers] … we saw that we needed to create a water and wastewater supervisor.”
Similar regulatory requirements have led in recent years to the hiring of an additional building inspector and to changes in the fire department, where a part-time fire chief has given way to a full-time chief, an administrative assistant and, now, a full-time deputy chief.
On the recreation and facilities front, two new positions were created in the wake of a massive construction spree in the township. Projects such as the Woolwich Memorial Centre and the new administration building required more oversight, Brenneman explained.
With the multi-use facility in Elmira, even though two existing buildings will be closed in favour of one, three new hires are expected. That, said Brenneman, recognizes the expanded nature of the facility and the programs that will be offered there.
“I can understand the general public may say, ‘why do we need more employees? We’ve already paid a lot for this [project].’ But this is a project of unprecedented size in Woolwich, and we want to make sure it runs smoothly – want to avoid poor customer service,” he said.
“The public would criticize us if we didn’t have an appropriate level of service.”
The budget is scheduled to be discussed again at a committee-of-the-whole meeting Feb. 17 before being passed at the council meeting of Feb. 24.