Tuesday, November 28th, 2023

Comments to Township on 2024 Budget

Dear Chair Mazan and Members of the General/Finance Committee,

The MRA reviewed the Draft 2024 Budget and watched the November 1st Special General/Finance Committee regarding the 2024 Draft Operating & Capital Budget and Forecast with interest.

Let us begin by saying that we are encouraged that the General/Finance Committee has not only followed staff recommendation to increase reserves, but is willing to discuss increase the contributions beyond the recommended amount.  The MRA has advocated for years that the reserves needed to be replenished, but that has not occurred in recent years as Council continually flaunted the recommendations of staff.  Even as recently as last year contributions to reserves were decreased in order to reduce the tax levy.  We applaud this change in direction.

The Draft Budget indicates that the budget presented at the November 1st meeting would be 6.9% before any additions or removals were made.  Then tax increases are projected to be 10.5% in 2025 and 9.5% in 2026 prior to any additions which we acknowledge are necessary to replenish reserves, but perhaps these increases would be more palatable if they were equalized to start with.

The cost of the 10 Year Capital Forecast is extremely disconcerting considering these numbers may change once the Asset Management Plan is completed and Council starts to implement recommendation in the Master Plans that have been completed.  Hard choice may need to be made.

The budget would be more transparent if 2023 Actuals to Date were included in the Capital Budget Summary by Division.  How is one supposed to track these changes if the current year is not included??

The MRA questions why the Actual Capital Expenditures for prior years are not included in the budget.  It would be extremely helpful if the budget included current year budget, actuals spent and amounts committed to spend.  This too would make the budget more transparent.

Although we acknowledge that arenas are loved by many and appreciate the new programs Mr. Moore is proposing for their use, the forecast amount of $8 million in capital expense over the next 10 years plus approximately $1 million per year in operating expenses is simply not sustainable.  We look forward to the results of the arena feasibility study when some tough decisions may have to be made.

Lastly, the MRA acknowledge that it is the staff that run the Township and believe we have always had a respectful relationship with staff.  That being said, we would be remiss if we did not point out that it is concerning to see over 60% of the operating budget being spent on wages and benefits.  This is further compounded by the addition of a Full Time Permanent Human Resource Generalist and a GIS Technician in the Service Enhancement portion of the budget.

As peviously stated, Council and Staff need to be aware that head count creep of full time salaried, part time, contract and hourly employees is a major driver of tax increases camouflaged as service level improvements.

Passing a budget is always a difficult process, and we hope you take our remarks as positive statements and not criticism.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment.

Gord Carlton
Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association

Liz Denyar
Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association

Note – a copy of the current 2024 draft budget can be obtained here – 2024 Municipal Budget

The report to the General / Finance Committee can be found here – Budget Report