Wellesley residents should expect to see a two per cent increase in the township portion of their taxes in 2012, or $21 for an average home assessed at $254,000. While the hike may sting, it’s much lower than the 6.41 per cent tax hike staff had originally requested from council before the start of the budget review process on Tuesday morning. It’s also slightly lower than the 2.9 per cent increase approved in last year’s budget. “We did some major chopping,” said Mayor Ross Kelterborn after the dust had settled on Wednesday. “Based on the economic climate that we’re in, I’m hoping that will be a satisfactory number. It’s sure better than the number we started off with.”
The township reached the rate of two per cent by slashing nearly $100,000 from the proposed budget. Wellesley also received $599,400 in grant money from the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund – $18,300 more than they budgeted for based on last year’s numbers.
The township also expects about four per cent more revenue ($139,907.52) from growth in the tax base compared to 2011.
The cuts mostly consisted of trimming away at the overall budget, but major cuts included $50,000 from the provisions for future roads reserves, $20,000 from recreation reserves, $15,336.65 from the information and technology expenditures budget, and $5,000 from the fire reserves for the development of a future fire station.
Kelterborn said he was disappointed that the township could not start the process of rebuilding their reserves and instead had to make cuts to them, but at the same time he felt it was prudent to keep the tax increase at a more manageable level.
One major source of contention at Tuesday’s meeting was the request to budget for an employee to handle the information technology services in the office, including repairs and service for the computers and server, any cellular phones issues, and to work on the township’s website.
Staff requested that a new position be created and more than $60,000 be budgeted for IT wages ($45,000) and benefits ($15,336.65), which drew vocal opposition from Coun. Herb Neher and Coun. Jim Olender.
“I don’t justify a full-time IT person,” said Olender. “We don’t need someone twiddling their thumbs six hours of the day, and they need to be doing a hell of a lot more than just IT.”
“For an office this size, an IT person isn’t justified,” added Neher, suggesting that they put out an ad for a retired resident in the township with computer experience, or an outside consultant, both of which would be cheaper than a full-time employee, he said.
Last year the township budgeted for $44,250 in outside IT expenditures, but reduced that number to $20,500 this year.
CAO Susan Duke said that the options suggested by Neher were not off the table, but that staff still needed to account for those costs in the budget in order to avoid a sizable shortfall.
In the end council elected to eliminate the $15,336.65 benefits portion of the expenditure, and labeled wages as “services” to leave their options open moving forward.
Kelterborn said Wellesley has worked hard to ensure that growth and expenditures are kept within their modest means as a township.
“We have moved ahead leaps and bounds,” the mayor said of the township’s development over the past few years. “We were able to keep what I consider a reasonable level of service to our customers and our rate payers based on a minimal tax increase.”
Before the budget can be passed, the township must provide 14 days’ notice to allow for public comment. The township is currently accepting public commentary on the budget, which will be presented in its final form to council on Feb. 21 in order to be passed.