After a lengthy and rocky review of the 2023 budget early this year, Niagara-on-the-Lake councillors want to get back on track for next year’s budget.
At a meeting on July 18, town council approved staff plans to bring forth a draft of next year’s budget for Sept. 18.
If council stays on track with the staff plan, budget talks would wrap up in December.
Staff recommended the town not increase taxes by more than 6.5 per cent in a report signed by chief administrator Marnie Cluckie.
Cluckie said the schedule staff proposed for budget talks is preliminary and there could be time to add additional meetings if necessary.
Gary Burroughs, a longtime councillor, said the plan to begin budget discussions in September will be late when compared with non-election years.
The 2022 municipal election was cited as one reason for delays to the town’s 2023 budget talks, which wrapped up in early April.
Town treasurer Kyle Freeborn disputed Burroughs’ assessment, saying the first draft of the budget usually comes to council in September.
Burroughs also said a 6.5 per cent limit on tax increases is “too high.”
Coun. Wendy Cheropita agreed, citing resident reactions to the tax increases of 2023 as a good reason to keep increases low next year.
Burroughs was also concerned that the hotel room tax committee still has not met.
The committee, Burroughs pointed out, will be dealing with “hundreds of thousands of dollars” coming from the municipality’s accommodations sector.
“The fact the committee hasn’t even met, even to discuss it to see what opportunities there may be, is just not acceptable,” he said.
Cheropita agreed that it “could impact the budget.”
“It is a substantial amount of money that will be available to the town,” she added.
Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa said he was happy with the staff report.
Coun. Sandra O’Connor suggested staff prepare a second budget proposal with tax increases capped at three per cent.
She added that it could be helpful for council to compare the two options so they could see what would “fall off the table” if council decided to keep tax increases low.
Zalepa spoke against the suggestion, arguing “it would be covered by the whole process anyway.”
He said council can decide what makes the cut and what doesn’t.
“Those decisions should be on our backs, not on staff’s backs,” he said.
Coun. Nick Ruller, however, pointed out that staff help to “guide those decisions.”
At the end of the discussion, council approved staff plans to start budget talks in September and voted in favour of O’Connor’s suggestion to draft two proposals.