Council Approves Another Tax Increase 3.04%

Here is an article from the Milton Canadian Champion with a very brief summation of the budget committee meeting this past Monday at Milton Town Hall.  The meeting went on for over 4 hours and our initial goal was to be at 2.95% increase or lower but it went in the other direction.

There were three main items that council approved that helped send this increase in the budget over the rate of inflation (which is the number I normally support).  The items include an increase increase for parking control because of the change in policy from 3 hour parking to 5 on Milton streets ($55,000), Saturday transit service starting in September 2013 (4 months $76,000) and finally an infrastructure reserve “levy” so to speak ($100,000 every year).

During the budget debate I opposed these three measures (Saturday transit service you can find in another blog entry) and the other two items listed I didn’t support and were subject to a recorded vote.  I did find it interesting that a councillor who voted in support of the transit & parking control measures (which amounted to $133,000 or just over 1.0% of the budget) ended up voting against the budget as a whole.  If they had NOT supported this measure I can understand voting against it.  Isnt that like having your cake and eating it too?

I’ll be posting more on this and other issues as we get closer to Monday night’s council meeting (my birthday by the way 🙂 ) and no doubt these and other items will be discussed over the next year.

Proposed Town budget to go to council next week

After spending hours debating what to include in the Town’s 2013 budget, members of the budget committee Monday night approved a 3 per cent tax hike for urban residents and a 3.05 per cent tax hike for rural residents.

If the budget passes next week, the average rural resident and urban resident will pay an extra $23.17 and $26.46 respectively on a home assessed at $350,000.

The budget committee voted 6-5 in favour of the proposed budget. Councillors and staff spent the night crunching the numbers in an attempt to meet or lower the staff’s recommended hike of 2.95 per cent.

Voting in favour of approving the budget were councillors Colin Best, Sharon Barkley, Cindy Lunau, Arnold Huffman, Rick Di Lorenzo and Zeeshan Hamid.

Voting against it were Mayor Gord Krantz, councillors Rick Malboeuf, Tony Lambert, Greg Nelson and Mike Cluett.

Hamid said it was a complicated budget to work with.

“I don’t think any one of us are happy with what we have, but it’s a compromise,” he said.

“I’m hoping that we recognize that we all came up with this document collectively.”

Krantz said he had hoped for the increase to be closer to the inflation rate of about 2 per cent.

An infrastructure renewal reserve fund was added to the budget Monday night to address future needs. An initial $100,000 to establish the fund increased the proposed tax hike from 2.75 per cent to about 3 per cent.

Barkley argued that the difference Milton residents would be paying next year is a few dollars extra.

Other amendments, additions and deletions to the budget include:

• Allowing the library to open a half hour earlier at a cost of $16,448.

• Permitting the main library to be open on Mondays at a cost of $69,702.

• Discontinuing the Talk of the Town publication, which will save the Town $12,000

• Reducing the budget for catch basin cleaning, which will save the Town $20,000

• Cutting the number of councillors who attend the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference to the mayor and three other councillors, which will save the Town $8,000.

The capital portion of the budget projects a $65.4 million investment in about 100 projects related to new infrastructure and the rehabilitation of existing assets like facilities, roads, bridges, parks and equipment. About 82 per cent of the investment would go to projects to address the current and future needs of the community while 18 per cent of the investment would go to the renewal and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure.

The operating part of the budget, which looks after the delivery of services required to meet the needs arising from growth in the community and to support the quality of life that residents expect, is projected at around $94.4 million. It’s divided among the Town’s departments, with engineering services, community services and planning and fire departments providing the most direct services to the community.

Enhancements include hiring five additional fulltime firefighters at the new James Snow Parkway station, improved economic development resources to develop an innovation centre, extended transit services to include Saturdays, and parking enforcement to accommodate a proposed five-hour parking regulation.

Town staff said Milton continues to have one of the lowest tax rate in Halton and Peel regions.

The Town’s portion of the overall property tax bill is now estimated at 31 per cent. The regional and education taxes are proposed to make up 43 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.

That means Miltonians could see an overall tax increase of 1.61 per cent in the urban area and 1.57 per cent in the rural area on their 2013 property tax bills.

Why Saturday Transit in Milton Can Wait

As many of you will read in the Milton Canadian Champion, Town Council recently approved (yet to be ratified) a property tax increase of 3.04% urban and 3.05% rural for 2013.  This budget included many needed capital and operating projects that will help improve the quality of life in town.

I can speak to those measures in another blog, but I wanted to bring to your attention the budget committee’s approval of offering Saturday Transit service.  Earlier this year, when the concept of Saturday transit was on the table before council, we had voted to defer the program until we had an opportunity to review the Milton Transit Master Plan.

This master plan will help set the course of where transit would go in Milton from 2013 and beyond.  To date we have still not received that report.  Many councillors, including myself, had attended the public meetings over the summer to help provide input in that master plan.  This report is slated to be reviewed by council in January, although it was initially supposed to be presented in November, which would have given us a chance to reviews its findings and make decisions at that time.

Minus the Milton Transit Master plan, I felt it was necessary to not support the Saturday service.  This service is slated to begin in September of 2013 at a cost to Milton taxpayers of $76,000.00 for 4 months.  Through this measure, we have now committed this and future councils to an annualized cost of $228,000.00 + per year for this service.

Some have asked me why did I not support it.  The short answer is that its not time yet for such a service despite some public feedback that we need it now.  I am supportive of the concept of expanding our transit services in the coming years, but not right now given some of the numbers I have been reviewing.

This blog post is to serve as the “long” answer to that question of why not now.

With a proposed $76,000 in operating expenses for Saturday service beginning in September 2013, and a targeted Revenue : Cost ratio (set by staff) of 45%, the revenue required to reach the R/C goal results in 671 fares per Saturday. To be fair, the current R/C ratio is 40%, resulting in 596 fares per Saturday, to maintain the status quo.

76,000 x 45% = 34,200 / 3.00 Fare / 17 Saturdays = 671
76,000 x 40% = 30,400 / 3.00 Fare / 17 Saturdays = 596

Based on the most recent Monthly Ridership Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) from October 2012, Milton Transit totalled 31,697 boardings that month.  There were 23 days of service. The result is a daily total average of 1,378 boardings. So at first glance, all Saturday service needs to do is operate at half the capacity to meet the 45% R/C target.

However, 930 of the conventional ridership were School Specials and Evening Drop Offs (which will not be included in Saturday service). Also to be noted, October 2012 was an anomalous 5,000 riders higher than any other month, ever. Using the annual average (with the inflated October numbers) of 25,527 boardings per month, the daily average is 1,109 boardings (based on a 23 day service month). Therefore Saturday transit service will need to operate at 60% of conventional weekday service to reach the R/C target, and 53% of the current R/C ratio. Keep in mind, approximately 930 riders (October numbers) of the monthly ridership will be automatically voided due to the fact School and Evening routes will not be offered.

But clearly, this increase in the budget has been called upon by the majority of residents in order for Council to deem it a valuable expenditure? Hardly. Of the 1290 recorded Customer Comments from 2012, 190 (14.7%) were related to weekend service.

But then, Milton Transit must be showing numbers of increasing growth which would demonstrate the need for service growth? Again, hardly. The first graph below indicates that while Milton Transit has been steadily growing since Q1 of 2010, with the biggest spike between Q3-Q4 2010, 2012 has not been a growth year. In fact, this has marked the first year since 2008 where quarterly numbers failed to meet the previous quarter back-to-back (ie. 2012 Q2 was less than 2012 Q1, and 2012 Q3 was less than 2012 Q2).

The next chart confirms the findings of the chart above, but shows the actual numbers, not the percentage.

While the overall ridership has grown dramatically, Milton Transit has reached a point where actual ridership is being lost.

The last graph shows that Milton Transit has already experienced the boom on ridership Annual Quarter to Annual Quarter.

Example – the biggest argument you will hear from staff is that numbers are always down in the summer. That is true. And numbers pick way up come September. Also true.

So I have compared the growth between Quarters in subsequent years. Notice that the greatest increase (almost unforeseen in Transit) was almost 90% growth! That was when Milton Transit attracted the most riders, and since that time, Annual Quarter to Annual Quarter has dropped significantly – almost to the point of stagnation.

Clearly, these are not promising numbers to a system that wishes to add service.  My opinion is that this is a way to promote conventional weekday service through offering the Saturday service. Which for $76,000 is a cheaper way to advertise, while still offering the service.

Add to that the findings from Dillon Consulting that 56% of all Milton Transit trips start or end at the Milton Go Station. It is not a stretch to submit that the majority of those riders are Go Service users (specifically, Go Train).

Considering the fact that the Go Train does not operate on Saturdays, I would also submit that to attain any reasonable level of ridership without Go Train users (and hence Evening Drop Off’ers), and School Specials, is highly improbable and I would challenge staff or Milton Transit to divulge any relevant statistics or findings to indicate otherwise.

I believe this to be a case of ‘We Should Do This Because That’s What Cities Do’, not ‘We Must Do This For The Betterment of Milton’.

Budget Time Is Coming

Its that time of year again.

No, not Halloween…thats over.  Not Christmas time either.  Its 2013 BUDGET TIME.

Now these words normally spread fear in the hearts and minds (and therefore changes the sleeping patterns) of elected officials but its a very important time of the year.  If youve been reading the local papers, other Halton area municipalities are beginning their budget discussions.  Just today, there was an overview of the Halton 2013 budget presented to regional council and should be made available online today for public view.

The Town of Milton budget will be available a little later this month on November 26th…unless they get it ready sooner.  Id much prefer to have it available earlier as to give members of council and the public time to go over some of the major projects underway.  The town does have budget call reports throughout the year as Ive posted on my blog many times and this is the final budget to be reviewed before the meeting on December 10th and 11th.

As I outlined on my Twitter feed earlier today from the Regional Council meeting, here are some of the highlights of the 2013 Halton budget overview.

* Long term plan for Halton might be increases at or around rate of inflation. Provincial cutbacks might throw curve ball in future years.

10:17 AM – 14 Nov 12

* Clr Meed Ward asking what can future years increase look like for Halton & sites her experience in Burlington with spiked tax inc’s.

10:16 AM – 14 Nov 12

* Are we preparing for more download from province of services due to their financial condition at the Region of Halton?

10:14 AM – 14 Nov 12

* Reg Clr Meed Ward is concerned about the “party being over” for 0% increases. Inflation right now roughly 1.8% now.

10:08 AM – 14 Nov 12

* Reg Clr Colin Best asks questions re MPAC to ensure speed of new assessments. #MiltonON growth closer to 8% rather than 1.5% region wide.

10:07 AM – 14 Nov 12

* Region of #Halton continues to have a triple A credit rating

10:04 AM – 14 Nov 12

* 66% of $3.9 B in growth related infrastructure all funded by development charges #Halton

10:03 AM – 14 Nov 12

* Timing of project depends on allocation programs in 2013 and beyond. #Halton

10:02 AM – 14 Nov 12

* On the Capital side $3.9 B ten year program for transportation, waste management projects etc…#Halton

9:59 AM – 14 Nov 12

$584K for new waste diversion programs to increase life of the landfill which is “the most important asset of the region of #Halton

9:55 AM – 14 Nov 12

Rate impact for #Halton ends up being zero due to GTA pooling savings.

9:54 AM – 14 Nov 12

* Assessment growth is expected to be 1.5% (new prop)#Halton MPAC assessments have been done. If you’ve incr more than avg taxes might go up.

9:52 AM – 14 Nov 12

* Region of #Halton budget to be put online in packet format to help those who use tablets as well.

9:49 AM – 14 Nov 12

SO needless to say the next few weeks will be busy reading these documents, finding out where money is being spent and getting feedback from the public on both the Region of Halton and Town of Milton budgets.  From time to time here on my blog, I will be posting reports and some feedback I have about the budgets and I hope you take time to read them.

For those of you who are interested, there will be a budget “information session” at the Milton Sports Centre on Wednesday November 28th in Room #4 from 7pm to 9pm for you to be able to ask questions and give us feedback and your thoughts on the Milton and Region of Halton budgets for 2013.  Regional Councillor Colin Best, myself and hopefully some more of our council colleagues will be there.  Send me an email if youre interested in attending.

2013 Budget Call Report – Possible 5.1% Increase

Milton 5.1% tax hike predicted From Milton Canadian Champion, Kim Arnott

Milton property taxes could jump by as much as five per cent next year, as the Town grapples with issues that could put “unprecedented pressure” on both its capital and operating budgets.

Along with inflationary pressures of more than three per cent, a staff report suggests the 2013 operating budget could be impacted by a delay in moving new homes onto the assessment rolls.

Uncertainty around the capital budget is based on possible changes to slot revenues and a delay in receiving development charge money from the Region due to appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

“In order to provide services at 2012 levels, staff are projecting a tax rate increase of 5.1 per cent in 2013,” said the report presented to councillors Monday.

Councillors directed staff to begin developing the budget, and outline options for tax increase scenarios ranging between one and five percent.  In response to the report, Mayor Gord Krantz said he’s speculating the tax increase will come in at five percent, but added, “I hope I’m proven wrong.”

Although inflation based on the consumer price index is forecast for about 2 per cent next year, a municipal price index, which weighs the costs of salaries, benefits, construction costs and items like asphalt, is predicted at 3.37 per cent.

Beyond that, staff are concerned that a province-wide assessment update taking place this year will delay the addition of newly-built homes to the assessment rolls.

While only temporary, that delay requires the Town to rely on its reserve funds to cover the cost of expanding services into new areas of the community until it begins receiving taxes from those properties.

“We are looking at some challenging times,” said Councillor Colin Best.  More significant is the uncertainty around the future of gaming at Mohawk Racetrack, following this spring’s announcement that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation is planning changes to gambling centres across the province.

Since 1998, slot revenue has been used to help fund capital projects, with the current nine-year capital forecast relying on nearly $50 million in slot revenue for funding.

The Milton Community Fund, which aids local non-profit initiatives, is funded solely from slot revenues.

Just recently, the Town of Milton received more than $1.4 million from the OLG for hosting the Slots at Mohawk Racetrack/ The revenue was the Town’s first-quarter revenue payment.

“The uncertainty regarding the future of the slot revenues creates financial risk for both of these programs and alternative revenue sources may need to be explored including increasing taxes,” said the staff report.

Finally, projects within the capital budget that are to be funded through development charges could be delayed as a result of appeals to the OMB.

Staff will be working with limited public feedback as they develop the budget. Only 87 residents completed the online budget survey on the Town’s website, a decline from about 200 respondents last year.

Councillor Mike Cluett described the decline as “a disappointment,” adding, “We need to hear from taxpayers even more now than ever, due to all the pressures we are under.”

Most people who did respond to the survey said they are generally satisfied with current levels of Town service. Park maintenance was the only area where the majority people thought services should be increased.

Almost three-quarters of respondents (72 per cent) said they would support a property tax increase to maintain existing services, with the majority saying the rate of inflation would be an appropriate increase.

Councillors are expected to get their first look at the 2013 budget by November 26, with a decision by town council scheduled for December 17.