Council OK’s budget with modest tax hikes

Some feared higher figure

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PRINCE TOWNSHIP — Residents can expect a modest increase in their municipal tax bills this year.

At the regular May council meeting, council voted to approve a tax hike of 1.5 per cent over last year’s level.

Over the past two months, council studied several drafts of the budget before settling on a tax rate of 0.850885. Converted to dollars, this rate will see homeowners pay the township $851.00 for each $100,000 of the assessed value of their property. Last year’s figure was $838.00.

Once the province’s educational levy is included, residential tax bills will rise to $1,012.00 for every $100,000 of assessment.

However, residential assessments have also crept up since last year. Figures from the Municipal Property Assessment Corp., indicate that, on average, home values in Prince have risen by 1.98 per cent, although some properties have declined in value over the same period.

Asked for his thoughts on the budget, Mayor Ken Lamming replied he was “satisfied, to a point.”

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“Council, staff, employees … and every volunteer for Prince Township does whatever it takes to keep our taxes as low as possible. It is all of the other costs that we have no control (over) that bother me the most,” he said.

As an example, Lamming said he hoped the township’s levy for the District Social Service’s Administration Board would be lower this year.

Instead, Prince’s share of the DSSAB levy approached $388,000, about $5,000 more than the actual figure the township paid in 2018.

Coun. Ian Chambers said he initially expected a larger tax hike. “I’m happy that we ended up …. without a dramatic increase,” he said. “The OMPF (Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund) funding went down and we lost quite a bit of funding this year.”

Chambers noted, too, that the need to revitalize the fire department “was a bit hit on our budget.”

In February, departing fire chief Ed Haley recommended that the township increase the fire department’s budget from under $60,000 to $125,000 in order to hire a part-time fire chief, introduce firefighter certification programs, maintain the fire hall and update equipment.

Council agreed to implement Haley’s recommendations, including hiring a new fire chief/fire prevention officer, Steven Hemsworth, in an ongoing drive to recruit new volunteers.

And, as well as revamping the fire department, council must also find funding to rebuild Walls Road, a project with an estimated price tag of more than $2.0 million.

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The township has applied for funding under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, which would pay 93 per cent of the cost if the application is approved.

However, Prince’s seven per cent share would still approach $150,000.

“I hope we get some funding for that one,” Chambers said.  “If we had to go that alone, we could probably do a patchwork this year, but next year we’d be stuck for it.”

In an e-mail interview, Coun. Dave Amadio also identified the fire department and Walls Road as the main reason for this year’s tax hike, along with the loss of $24,000 in OMPF funding.

However, he added that Prince’s tax rate is modest compared with those of other rural municipalities in the North.

“In discussions with council members from other Northern Ontario municipalities, they stated that their levy increases were significantly higher than ours as they also struggle with similar issues of higher costs and reduced OMPF transfers,” said Amadio, who travelled with Lamming to the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities’ annual conference in Sudbury earlier this month.

Amadio also noted that council withdrew heavily from the township’s reserves last year in order to keep up with road repairs, and that the reserves had to be replenished this year.

Council, therefore, allotted more than $200,000 to capital asset reserves, including the $65,675 the township received recently from the federal government’s one-time Gas Tax Top-up fund.

But Amadio cautioned that the province’s focus on taming a $15-billion deficit is likely to lead to more service cuts and lower transfer payments to municipalities.

“I also have concerns about future years’ tax rates if there is ongoing downloading to the municipalities from upper levels of government, with shrinking transfers to cover these costs,” Amadio said.

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