Gananoque council has adopted a 2024 operating budget calling for a 7 per cent tax levy increase.
Councillors on Tuesday adopted the budget, though the final impact of the Joint Services Committee budget, the tri-county health unit levy and the employee health benefit premium renewal will either be absorbed throughout 2024, or will form a deficit at the end of the year to be covered by a draw from reserves.
The consolidated operating budget is $24,756,166, including transfers to Reserves of $5,418,040. The 2024 Capital consolidated budget is $18,913,080.
Town officials said the average assessment is $183,480, and the 2024 municipal tax on this amount would be $2,737.43 if the 2024 tax ratios are the same as 2023. This is a $179.08 annual increase over 2023 on the same house with no assessment changes. The figure does not include school board taxes as those rates are not yet released.
Town staff cited a number of pressures on municipal spending, including increasing insurance premiums, rising hydro, fuel and gas rates, inflationary pressures and legislated changes imposing further costs.
At the Dec. 7 and 8 budget meetings, council reviewed the draft 2024 operating and capital budgets.
The draft budget included a five-per-cent increase in the levy, or the total amount of money drawn from property taxpayers. Further changes to the budget increased that draft levy increase to seven per cent.
Council members approved a series of changes to the 2024 budget, including a change in the council remuneration increase, from the Consumer Price Index to the cost-of-living adjustment given CUPE- affiliated employees, resulting in a budget decrease of $4,575.
In the other direction, the police budget shows an increase of 6.3 per cent, representing an increase to the tax levy of $36,780 above the five per cent included in the draft as circulated.
The Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands council did not approve the required increase to the arena joint services costs. The neighbouring council voted to pay the town the same amount it contributed in 2023. The result is an additional cost to Gananoque of $14,170.
Like their counterparts in Brockville, Gananoque’s civic leaders are looking at a massive increase in the cost of running St. Lawrence Lodge. The long-term care facility approved an increase of 64 per cent to its overall municipal levy, which resulted in a 135-per-cent increase to Gananoque’s share. This increased the budget by $34,386.
The library board municipal grant was approved to increase by 7.2 per cent, which hiked the draft budget by $4,780.
Council also voted: to fund $34,760 toward creating a communications officer position; to fund $96,200 toward creating deputy treasurer and deputy clerk positions; and to add $7,000 to the elections budget to offset the potential levy to the newly formed Elections Ontario.
Subsequent to last month’s budget meeting, at the Dec. 19 council meeting, members passed a motion to fund $14,855 of the 2024 Visitor Center budget from the Municipal Accommodation Tax reserve.
A 2024 Business Improvement Area budget has not yet been approved by the board to be presented to council for consideration.
This year’s Federal Gas Tax Grant allotment to the town is $338,484, while the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF) funding for 2024 was reduced by 15 per cent to $723,396. These funds may be used for any capital projects identified in the asset management plan. This year, they will go to the Arthur Street reconstruction.
The budget for casino revenues has again been projected at $1,107,200, based on the 2023 year-to-date funding. These funds are used mostly for capital projects (85 per cent), with five per cent each going to economic development, community grants, and a contingency fund.
Council approved $6,072,52 in new capital projects and increases to 2023 projects. Projects not completed in 2023, reviewed as carry-forward projects, totalled $2,563,150.
Council also pre-approved ordering a ladder fire truck in the amount of $2,073,000
Subsequent to the budget meeting, the manager of parks and recreation advised that three capital projects which were scheduled for 2023 were not completed and would need to be added to the carry-forward project list. They are the marina waste enclosure, the Visitor Center building engineering report, and the balance of the generator budget to relocat the electrical panel on the exterior of Town Hall.
These projects are now included in the 2024 capital budget. As well, the wiring of the old Town Hall is behind schedule and as such is now a carry-forward project.
Subsequent to the budget meetings staff received the employee health benefits premium renewal. The Policy paid out $30,000 more in claims in 2023 than the amount of premiums paid by the town. The contract caps the annual increase at 15 per cent. The 2024 draft budget included a five-per-cent increase on premiums. The difference between the renewal and the budget is $69,390.
The MPAC levy notice for 2024 was received and it is for $71,390 or $1,990 less than the $73,380 included in the draft budget.
(Keith Dempsey is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)