Highlands East draft budget focuses on maintaining
By Sue Tiffin
At a Jan. 28 regular meeting of Highlands East council, department heads presented a 2020 draft budget with a 3.85 per cent levy increase, about $18 on $100,000 assessment.
Highlands East chief administrative officer and treasurer Shannon Hunter told the Echo that after the municipality conducted an organizational review and facility review completed last year, the items that were earmarked for the 2020 draft budget were included for health and safety reasons or were items that have been identified by staff as having a need to be addressed in the current year.
“Council directed staff through the capital forecasting and facility review to go through and identify priorities and so the only thing that is, what was presented to council in the budget in the current year were health and safety items, along with items that would be required to maintain our assets,” she told the Echo.
Hunter said items in the draft budget include exhaust vents in fire stations, and said there is money included in the draft budget to repair Station 6’s roof, though she noted the facility review suggested a full roof replacement and the draft budget recommends a repair. For Cardiff pool, $200,000 was earmarked in the budget for new change rooms and a mechanical room. There is also $225,000 in the draft budget for a sand dome in Glamorgan to replace the sand shelter that is currently there now, and the municipality has continued to put money in the budget for a new municipal office, recommended in the organizational review.
The facilities report, conducted by WalterFedy and presented to council on Nov. 12, assessed the condition of 34 of the municipality's facilities, including sheds, fire stations, community centres and municipal administration facilities, offering an extensive report for each structure. A total of more than $2 million in repairs was recommended to happen in 2020.
“I feel it's a difficult time because I too agree that we have to take the public, we have to take the ratepayers into account, but we also have to be financially sustainable,” said Hunter. “... it’s a struggle. Every year you face this, it's just becoming more and more prevalent and now that we have more data, it's harder ... Every asset you have is important to someone.”
Hunter said a fire committee review and the county’s service delivery review are still outstanding.
“It was a really hard draft budget to put together because ... until decisions are made, we’re putting forward a budget that is, just maintaining assets as they are,” she said.
Hunter said the county’s service review is expected to be complete at the end of June. Regarding if she knew when a fire committee review might be complete, she said: “I do not. I’m hoping in a timely manner, but I’m not expecting it within the next couple of months.” According to a motion, council directed staff to look at needs for municipal offices.
“This is a draft, and a lot could change between now and our next meeting,” said Hunter. The draft budget is expected to return to council for further discussion on Feb. 11.