Budget season is once again upon us in the City of Cornwall, and I wanted to outline a few items that we can expect from this year’s process.
Budgets are usually hotly contested, and it is often hard to predict exactly what will happen, but is however, your money.
Here are my predictions:
1. A longer budget season
Last year, I could have hardly predicted that not only would the budget process take only two days, but that the annual tax increase would be lower than many expected.
The two budget seasons preceding the 2019 budget both took roughly six months for council to agree upon and finalize.
The 2019 council was blessed with one the first take of Development Charges, which lowered the projected tax increase significantly, and secondly, the current council seems to work together more harmoniously than the 2014-2018 edition.
While this council does still work well together, I think that the projected tax increase will probably be higher, and that council will want to review budget items more closely than a mere two days will allow.
2. Train time
Budget after budget, the issue of the old Locomotive #17 comes up. Every year council is told that the train, which is located on the corner of Brookdale Ave. and Ninth St., is deteriorating. Every year at least one councillor pledges to fund its repair, and every year, the train sits and deteriorates some more.
Last year there seemed to be a real push from community members in Cornwall and train aficionados to save this piece of Cornwall’s transit history.
I think that this will be the year when something is actually done. I believe that council will vote to find new owners of Locomotive #17 and might put some money towards its maintenance or removal.
3. Big issues at Big Ben
Cornwall’s landfill and recreation site, the Big Ben ski hill is opening this month for those who want to take to its slopes.
Over the past several years, management of the ski hill was contracted out, however for the current ski season, Cornwall will be managing the site itself after being unable to find a new contractor that met their specifications.
Council actually voted to defund and effectively close Big Ben in the 2018 budget, but a community outcry lead to council at the time reconsidering.
I expect that once again, Big Ben’s future will be on shaky ground as council evaluates whether or not it wants to continue to spend money on operating costs.
4. The Arts Centre
While the community fundraising for the Arts Centre did not take off in 2019 in the way that many had hoped, I still think that they will reach their community fundraising goal of $1 million before the end of 2020.
The total price tag to renovate the Arts Centre is roughly $5 million and I can guarantee that there will be at least one lengthy discussion during this budget season on how much this council is willing to spend on the centre and when they want to spend it.
I know of at least two councillors, Eric Bergeron and Dean Hollingsworth, who have publicly stated that they are skeptical of the purpose of the Arts Centre and are unwilling to commit municipal funds until a clear business plan has been presented.
Other councillors will counter this argument by pointing out that there was no specific business plan for the Benson Centre when the City contributed money to its construction.
Council has had this conversation before, and they will have it again.
5. And finally . . .
And finally, the residential tax rate increase itself. Like I said, last time around the budget was passed very quickly and the residential tax
rate increase was surprisingly low compared to what was expected.
Is it possible that this might happen again? Yes, but it isn’t likely.
For 2020, Council will take a longer time haggling over the final number for the residential tax increase. They will weigh what residents can bare over investing in services and growth.
Will Council land on the side of short-term pain for long-term gain, or will they gamble everything on keeping the tax rate low. South Glengarry gambled for years on keeping their water tax rate low, now they are facing serious infrastructure funding challenges, particularly for Glen Walter and their aging water-waste water treatment facility.
My guidance would be that council should budget for the worst possible scenario. Invest in infrastructure, invest in services, invest in growth, and invest in reserves for a rainy day and then reap the benefits that the future will bring.