By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Oshawa councillors got their first chance to see what projects are slated for the coming year and, more importantly, what it’s going to cost, as the 2018 operating budget was presented during a special meeting on Dec. 15.
As it stands, the city’s budget requires an influx of approximately $3.1 million, meaning the average resident could be looking at a 2.29 per cent increase on their tax bill, or an additional $53 on average (based off homes assessed at $355,000, the average price of a home in Oshawa).
With that said, past budgets suggest that what is proposed now will not be the final increase, and in fact, it will more than likely be less. In 2014, staff proposed a 2.11 per cent increase which council cut to 1.44 per cent, the same was done in 2015 when staff brought forward a 2.18 per cent increase and council cut it down to 1.82 per cent. In 2016, council originally saw a 2.94 per cent increase to the tax levy, but chopped it down to 2.52 per cent, and finally, last year, council was given a budget that originally proposed a 2.5 per cent increase, which after the first day of deliberations had increased to 2.89 per cent, but in the end, was eventually brought back down to 2.37 per cent.
This year, the largest portion of the additional funds are needed in order to make up the increases in salaries and benefits, mainly due to the impacts of the provincial Bill 148, the The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, which is mandating minimum wage at $14 an hour starting in January. The bill alone is estimated to cost the city approximately $588,000.
Councillor Dan Carter, the chair of the finance committee questioned city treasurer and director of finance services Stephanie Sinnott as to whether the city would receive any assistance from the province in regards to handling the impacts of Bill 148.
“I am not aware of any provincial funding that will be coming forward,” she said.
With that said, the city has made gains in other areas with utility costs decreasing, along with decreases in the money being paid out for gasoline and diesel for city vehicles.
The city has also seen a decrease in its debt payments of approximately $767,000 due to the elimination of some of the city’s internal debt items. However, this is slightly offset by the fact that this time last year, council took out a further $3.8 million in debt to pay for the new runway at the airport, violating their own approved internal debt policy in the process.
However, this debt reduction is part of nearly $20 million in debt that the city has been able to pay off over the last four budgets.
This reduction was significant for councillors following a report earlier this fall that noted the city’s reserves were in a perilous state and investment was needed in order to keep things from falling too far behind future requirements.
“There is significant need in the city for capital investment,” Sinnott says. “We need to be able to create capacity to continue to build our reserves.”
The budget proposes a $1.4 million increase to reserves this year, as well as a 0.1 per cent increase to council’s infrastructure levy that was put in place last year.
The levy is a part of the tax increases with all dollars going toward funding for future infrastructure projects. It’s estimated the 0.1 per cent will generate $132,000.
As part of the capital budget presentations last week, council once again was met with the scary infrastructure deficit. A bulk of $448 million worth of infrastructure projects through to 2027 will need funding, but yet to have an identified source.
“Our reserves are not at that level,” Sinnott says.
Now, the city’s budget discussions will be recessed until the new year when they will hold a public meeting to gather feedback from residents on Jan. 8. That meeting will take place at city hall at 6:30 p.m. Meetings on Jan. 16 and 19 are slated for budget deliberations and eventual approval.