The city’s 2022 tax levy increase sits at 3.2 per cent after the second evening of budget talks tonight, which also found city council approve a water/wastewater rate increase of 4.8 per cent.
This approval followed a lengthy debate sparked in large part by Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti, who introduced a motion that would have seen rates increase by only 2.9 per cent.
He proposed the lesser increase as a means of giving ratepayers some “relief,” particularly since it’s unclear what kinds of impacts the COVID-19 pandemic will bring next year.
The 4.8 per cent rate increase is in keeping with the city’s long-range financial plan for water and wastewater, and city manager of growth and infrastructure Tony Cecutti defended these annual increases during tonight’s finance and administration committee meeting.
“Staff manages risk every day, we do the best we can with the monies that are provided through council and approved, and we do things to try and mitigate the potential for some kind of catastrophic loss,” he said, adding that reducing this annual expenditure would “increase the potential for those types of things.”
City executive director of finance, assets and fleet Ed Stankiewicz noted that non-residential construction costs were up 13.6 per cent in the last quarter, which points to further need for these funds, which mainly go toward maintaining and restoring underground infrastructure.
Given the scope of the city’s aging infrastructure needs, Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland said reducing the contribution toward maintaining what they have is not something he will “in any way support.”
“That time bomb is just about to go, and we haven’t seen that yet, but to defund the future and to defund our city’s resiliency…” he said. “It sounds kind of facetious, but think of the children.
“Even if we survive long enough for this problem not to take root, somebody else is going to have to pay for this. … We cannot go back and do this because of a populist trying to make everyone happy. We have to do what’s right, and that means responsibly investing in our infrastructure.”
The majority of city council shot down Signoretti’s proposal, although it did receive support from Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini and Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier.
As for the city’s 2022 tax levy increase, tonight’s meeting started with a 3.3 per cent increase, which by the end was pared down to 3.2 per cent.
This reduction was thanks to a successful resolution by McCausland to reduce the hours of operation at the Frobisher Recycling Drop-off Depot from 24 hours per day to 14 hours per day, for an annual operating budget reduction of $88,738.
Approximately 98 per cent of people use the depot between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., city acting director of environmental services Renee Brownlee told council, noting that the expense comes as the result of a security guard monitoring the site during its operating hours to ensure nobody’s dumping inappropriate items.
The journey toward tonight’s 3.2 per cent increase began several months ago when city council requested that city administration prepare a proposed 2022 budget with a tax levy increase no greater than three per cent. What they ended up getting was a 3.2 per cent proposed increase.
This was due to the Greater Sudbury Police Service Board submitting a plan that was $500,000 greater than initially projected. Tonight’s meeting started an additional 0.1 per cent greater at 3.3 per cent as a result of other external agency requests coming in greater than anticipated.
Early drafts of the city’s budgets take certain assumptions into account before external agencies’ boards finalize their asks of the municipality, CAO Ed Archer explained to Sudbury.com following tonight’s meeting.
The most significant change to arise tonight among external agencies’ requests was from Public Health Sudbury and Districts, whose ask came in at $145,950 greater than anticipated.
The city had established a five per cent increase as a placeholder because that’s what they asked for last year, Archer said, noting their final request came in at seven per cent.
The city’s overall 2022 contribution to Public Health Sudbury and Districts is $7.8 million, which is a $510,814 increase over last year.
City council approved all external agency requests, although the Greater Sudbury Police Service Board’s request passed by a narrow margin of 7-6.
The majority of potential tax levy changes will be debated on Wednesday, during which 28 business cases are set to be discussed. These cases are for changes in service levels and the majority would result in increases to the tax levy.
That established, Bigger said tonight that he’s still pushing for a tax levy increase no greater than three per cent, as difficult as achieving that goal might prove to be.
In order to achieve a three per cent tax levy increase, city council would have to shave off $712,953 from the budget.
“We’re really in a position where you can see council is unwilling to give up the future,” Bigger said, citing their reluctance to lessen the water/wastewater rate increase as indicative of a city council eager to invest in infrastructure.
“In the end, we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot if we go below those long-term financial plan estimates that were developed to create a sustainable plan toward the future.”
Thus far impressed with how city council has progressed through budget talks, Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo, who serves as chair of these meetings, credited his colleagues with informing themselves beforehand with the help of city administrations.
Where they’re at now, he said, is “leaps and bounds from where we’ve been in previous budget processes.”
Budget talks continue Wednesday at 4 p.m., and a livestream will be available by clicking here.
Alongside existing business cases, several motions brought forward by city council members are also expected to be up for debate, including a motion Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti mentioned tonight that would seek to freeze wages for all non-union city staff members.
Click here for a story on Monday night’s budget talks.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.