Brockton council continues budget talks

BROCKTON – As budget deliberations continue in Brockton, the tax increase presently stands at 13 per cent but is most certainly going to change.

It’s becoming clear that the municipality faces some challenges, key among them, how to finance important projects and needed equipment without incurring a debt load that will inhibit future growth. Cash reserves are about $11 million. Debt stands at $22 million currently.

Among the public works projects discussed during recent budget meetings are the Yonge Street rehabilitation, the purchase of a new street sweeper ($450,000), and the Maple Hill Bridge repairs.

There are streetlights that need replacing, the Market Garden project that requires completion (estimated cost $400,000-$450,000), tennis courts that need restoration – and a strong public interest in pickleball courts.

Regarding the latter, the consensus among council members at last week’s budget meetings was they’d like to see something done this year, and would also like to see a pickleball group formed that would assist with fundraising.

In addition to discussion about the use of reserves, the more contentious issues raised were the future need for a new arena/community centre, and Saugeen Municipal Airport.

Mark Coleman, director of community services, stated, as he has in the past, that the current arena is nearing the point where decisions need to be made.

“We need to look at a new arena or a major refurbishment,” he said.

The arena’s refrigeration system has developed a brine leak that has to be repaired at a cost of $50,000-$75,000.

A new arena and community centre would cost millions of dollars – Coleman said somewhere in the range of $26 million for a single ice surface.

Coun. Greg McLean commented that putting – or not putting – $100,000 in a reserve “is like chipping away at an iceberg with a fork.”

Council continues to look at options – where cuts can be made, whether to borrow or use reserves, and what kind of tax increase would be acceptable.

Mayor Chris Peabody commented that there’s “good debt,” such as the East Ridge Business Park investments, and there’s “bad debt.”

Coun. Carl Kuhnke said he’s comfortable with the budget as it is.

“Nickel and diming the budget to death is a poor use of time and money,” he said.

Coun. Tim Elphick did not agree.

“I can’t support 13 per cent,” he said.

Elphick would like to see some transfers from reserves, and expressed concern over what’s going to happen with MPAC (Municipal Tax Assessment Corporation). Property values remain frozen at 2016 levels, meaning new properties are being taxed at a rate that is lower than their value, which is not benefitting the municipality since its costs are at 2023 levels. The other side of the coin is taxpayers are looking at a major shock when their property assessments go up.

Elphick said a five to six per cent increase is needed just to maintain current services, but “13 per cent is not where residents asked us to go.”

McLean agreed.

“Thirteen per cent – we have to do better than that,” he said, suggesting an increase that matches inflation.

Deputy Mayor James Lang noted the cost of living is at eight per cent.

“Six to eight per cent is where we need to be,” he said.

He went on to remind council of the bridges that need work, “things that are failing… and we’ve been cutting reserves.”

Coun. Mitch Clark wants “something closer to inflation… 13 per cent is $25 per month… but I see things that could be cut.”

Clark also sees the need to “get creative” with the cash balance.

“We have $11 million in cash,” he said, suggesting some of that could be invested in a manner that would generate some interest while allowing the municipality to access it.

Coun. Kym Hutcheon reminded council that Chepstow has pickleball courts, and suggested some possible cuts to the budget.

Peabody summed up the views of council by saying, “Get it down closer to inflation,” and leaving the details to staff.

Clerk Fiona Hamilton reminded council there were some specific requests that had to be dealt with, including an additional $15,000 for Victoria Jubilee Hall and $214,000 for the tennis courts.

Both those generally had council’s support. A $20,000 request from the Chepstow Lions and a $7,500 request from the Walkerton Capitals received a somewhat cooler reaction.

Airport discussion

And then there was the airport.

As with the other local boards, it’s in the municipal budget under the category of general government.

Kuhnke, who is Brockton’s representative on the Saugeen Municipal Airport board, said, “It’s a zero-deficit budget with a 10 per cent increase for each of the (three) municipalities.” He noted there’s also a $60,000 “donation/sponsorship revenue” line in the airport’s budget. He further noted there’s $11,000 in reserves, meaning, “there is no money to do anything.” He quipped, “If a runway light goes out and it costs more than $11,000…”

Peabody commented on the airport bylaw that’s also an issue.

He was assured that the airport’s lawyer is working on that and will send a revised draft.

McLean said he’s concerned about that $60,000.

“I understand that’s not common practice (to use fundraising for general revenue),” he said.

Kuhnke said the budget and the bylaws are the two “issues that are looming” for the airport. He noted that “there are 50 pilots that use that airport,” and commented that a commercial plane hasn’t used it in 20 years.

“Ornge or a government plane uses it sometimes,” he said.

He added that “every other airport in the area has been sold except SMA… do we remain the sole holdout or get the private sector involved?”

Kuhnke further commented that the airport has 253 acres of land that would be an ideal location for “a wonderful $400 million regional hospital.”

Meanwhile, discussions on Brockton’s municipal budget 2023 continue.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times