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Public meeting provides responses to common financial questions affecting residents

street sign with Budget on it

Kawartha Lakes –  At an evening meeting livestreamed on YouTube, Jennifer Stover, Director of Corporate Services, took Council and the public through the proposed budget and answered common questions from the public. The impact that the current term of Council has had on municipal finances was highlighted.

What has Council accomplished financially in the current term (2018-2022)?

Over the last four years of the Council term, several accomplishments have been made. Stover commented, “In addition to continuing enhance access across the 200 services that are delivered year-round to meet the growing needs of the community, Council has navigated the impacts of a global pandemic and emerged on solid financial footing.”

Council chose to invest in reserves to stabilize the tax impact, notably in new WSIB and winter maintenance reserves. It also entered into an innovative partnership with Peterborough County for shared Paramedic Chief Services, and invested early in a Community Paramedic program to assist seniors at home and prevent return to hospital.

Capital improvements of $160 million over four years includes major downtown revitalization of Lindsay and Fenelon Falls, the new Mariposa Fire Station, new Logie Park and redeveloped Bobcaygeon Beach Park.

What has Council done about the condition of roads?

Council has made significant strides toward improving roads over the last four years, investing $72 million to maintain and update almost 700 km of roads throughout the municipality, including urban and rural roads.

Stover pointed out that although resident complaints tend to focus on road maintenance, the municipality has a sparse population supporting the vast network of roads (5,300km). This equates to the drive to Florida and back each time the roads are treated. There are seven households contributing to every kilometre of road maintenance in Kawartha Lakes, compared to 37 households in Peterborough and 80 households in Toronto. The sheer size of the municipality together with a predominantly rural population contributes to ongoing challenges with roads.

Property taxes are high - aren’t they?

Property taxes have been held to the cost of living, or 3% per year over the last term of Council. This equals a cumulative total of a 12% increase over four years. The comparative tax rates of more than 40 cities, including Oshawa, Orillia, Peterborough and Chatham-Kent, show that Kawartha Lakes is in the low to moderate range of tax rate in the Province when compared to other rural communities.

Do we have too many staff?

Kawartha Lakes’ salaries and staffing levels are low compared to other municipalities. The municipality has a low salary to revenue ratio (31%), compared to many other municipalities which are in the 40% range. The operating budget pressures for next year include an additional $2 million in salaries and benefits to maintain collective agreements and cost of living. Additional positions, at a cost of $1.4 million, are requested to support growth of the community which requires additional support from several departments including planning, engineering and emergency services.

Is the debt level manageable?

Stover spoke to the notion that some residents feel the municipality is carrying too much debt. She explained that Kawartha Lakes currently has approximately $140 million in debt to support its $3.5 billion worth of assets. In the context of a household, this would be the equivalent to a home valued at $475,000 having a mortgage of $20,000. The debt is well within the prescribed thresholds defined by the province.

What happens to the surplus each year?

The average surplus of $3 million equals approximately 1% of the total budget. The surplus in 2018 and 2020 was invested back into the Capital reserve to maintain assets including roads.

In 2019, Council allocated the surplus to support community related pandemic initiatives. This resulted in funding for community agencies and cultural organizations to respond to needs that they could not otherwise have met. Economic renewal was stimulated through a variety of means including waived fees for businesses, enhanced services in downtowns, parks and gathering areas, improvements to boat launches and reconstruction of the main street of Fenelon Falls.

How have we managed pandemic related costs, and what has it cost taxpayers?

The municipality has received $7.5 million in Safe Restart funding, most of which has been spent on personal protective equipment for first responders, technology supports and offsetting pandemic related costs. This funding allowed Council to set the tax levy at just 1.5% in 2021, lessening the burden to residents in a very difficult second year of the pandemic. There remains $400,000 in pandemic funding for the balance of the year.

What’s on the capital project list for 2022 and what will it cost?

The proposed capital budget of $39 million includes:

  • Rehabilitation of 173 km of roads
  • Design of a new Paramedic Headquarters and Fleet Centre
  • Replacement of Lindsay Recreation complex ice pads
  • Ongoing repair and maintenance of assets

The budget does not include $17 million in deferred projects. This list is expected to grow each year, unless the proposed new infrastructure levy is approved. This new levy would equate to approximately $35 per average household per year, over the next 10 years.

What can water and wastewater users expect next year?

For the last several years, the costs to maintain the water and sewer infrastructure and services across the city has remained consistent. In keeping with the new 10-year plan approved this year, it will continue to be funded exclusively by users of the systems and will increase by 3% per year.

Follow along with the budget process:

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chart showing breakdown of capital budget 2022

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