I attended the December 12 council meeting when our first look at the 2019 draft budget was presented. The first startling revelation was the updated costs associated for the Multi Use Recreation Centre (MURC). When the idea for a MURC was first floated, the cost was estimated to be approximately $30 million and throughout the municipal election campaign no one on the campaign trail disputed that. And now we find out the new cost estimate is $42 million. No, that is not a typo. The new figure is Forty-Two Million Dollars ($42,000,000.00).
We all knew that the quoted figure of $30 million in 2014 would not stand the test of time but I never envisioned in my wildest dreams that the cost would balloon by 40 per cent. So given that the MURC’s estimate has increased so dramatically, I can only assume the figures quoted for both the new fire hall and the MURC library will increase as well.
Although council had already approved $2 million in expenditures in 2017 and 2018 to begin planning the MURC, spending beyond that amount has never been approved. That will change if the 2019 budget is passed because on page 68 of new capital projects, the MURC is listed as a new capital initiative at a cost of $42,141,000.00. Council is looking for feedback on this budget so if you have anything to say about this expenditure, now is the time.
But, here is some other news on the DRAFT budget. The total budget (before any budget negotiations by council) is $102.3 million. That includes operating expenses of $70.5 million and 2019 capital expenditures of $17.3 million plus $14.5 million in carry forward capital projects that won’t be completed by the end of 2018. There is also new debt anticipated in 2019 of $6 million which, when added to the 2018 debt of $5 million, will total $11 million—all of which is being carried internally, at least for the time being.
The bottom line is that the Town of Georgina will need to raise $42.5 million in property taxes if the draft budget isn’t modified before it is approved in February. The tax increase recommended by staff at this time will be 3.9 per cent. That could change, but in my experience–it won’t be by much.
The draft budget also supports eight new full time staff positions—four new positions and four individuals that will be moved from either contract or part time positions to full time.
I spent some time going over the budget with Georgina’s treasurer, Rob Wheater and my sense is he is quite capable and skilled. My impression is that this is a budget with future intentions and he has carefully laid out a fiscal blue print that plots a course forward, but, it isn’t going to be cheap.
My New Year’s wish is that council take its time to methodically go through this budget. Unlike last year, I want them to raise their questions and concerns in open session and let the public hear staff’s response. I think we have a right to know what the issues are and I don’t care how long it takes. Why don’t I care…because it takes me four 40-hour work weeks to make the money I need to pay my property taxes. So if they have to spend a few more hours debating issues to get it right, it will demonstrate the respect the taxpayers deserves.
As you can appreciate, there is a whole lot more to the 2019 budget beyond what I have illustrated here and I will continue to keep you in the loop as I have more time to digest it—so, stay tuned. Cheers for now. Karen