Mayor Iain Lovatt

My Comments Regarding The 2024 Budget.

I delivered this message at the Nov 15th Council meeting when discussing our 2024 Operating and Capital budgets.


Last week, on November 8, 2023, I had the honour of presenting the Whitchurch-Stouffville 2024 to 2026 Draft Operating and Capital Budget and Draft Water and Wastewater Budget to my Council colleagues and our Town Clerk, Becky Jamieson.


The presentation of this year’s budget, while it may look the same in format, was a little different than in previous years. On October 31, 2023, I was given Strong Mayor Powers by the Province of Ontario under Part VI.1 of the Municipal Act, 2001. Strong Mayor Powers provide Mayors with powers related to administrative and organizational structure, powers to advance provincial priorities, and the responsibility for preparing and presenting the budget.


On that day, I issued a Mayoral Directive to staff to draft the 2024 to 2026 Operating and Capital Budget and Water and Wastewater Budget. Now, we all know, that in reality, budgets of this magnitude cannot be drafted in a matter of days. Our staff have been very hard at work on these budgets for months. I would like to acknowledge and thank all the staff members who have contributed to the drafting of these budgets.


There are too many people to name, but I do want to thank Jeremy Harness, our Director of Finance, and Clayton Pereira, our Manager of Budgets and Financial Planning, for their expertise in preparing these budgets. Gentlemen – you and your amazing team have provided us with well-researched and fiscally responsible budgets, and on behalf of all of Council, thank you.


I also want to acknowledge our talented Communications team, led by Corporate Communications Manager Glenn Jackson, for their creative efforts in putting together budget books that are visually appealing and inviting to read. Thank you, Glenn and team Comms. 


And, of course, all this work is done under the leadership of Chief Administrative Officer, Sunny Bains.


Despite being given Strong Mayors powers, I have committed to my Council colleagues that we will continue to work together, as a team, to advance budgets that focus on our shared priorities by executing our strategic plan. Council and staff are unified in our commitment to enhancing our residents’ experiences in town, and I believe the 2024 budget demonstrates just that.


In a few short minutes, we will have a presentation from Clayton on these budgets, that focuses on our 6 service themes, but before that, I would like to touch on two other themes important to our budget.


Firstly, affordability. Like all municipalities across Canada, the town has faced significant inflationary pressures over the last year, resulting in rising costs to deliver the programs, services and projects that keep our town running. We have especially seen this in our capital projects, and Report 5 on our agenda today regarding Fire apparatus purchase costs clearly demonstrates this.  We also know these inflationary pressures affect our residents too…from groceries, to gas, to mortgage payments…life in general is becoming more and more expensive.


And that is why it was so important to me and to Council that we do our very best to balance the needs of the town, with the needs of our residents, and keep the proposed tax increase to a minimum. This budget proposes a 1.47% operational tax levy increase with an additional 2% for capital asset needs and 1% dedicated for the Main Street Reconstruction project. The upcoming presentation from staff will highlight the need for a 3% capital contribution to our reserves but from what I have seen so far from other municipalities, this will be one of the lowest blended tax rates in the GTA at 3.03% and as the budget book shows on page 26, Stouffville maintains the 6th lowest take rate in the GTA.


And secondly, I want to highlight the importance of our 10-year capital forecast. The capital forecast is a financial plan that outlines our projected spending on long-term assets. It is no secret that we are a rapidly growing community. By the year 2051, we will have over 100,000 residents and with this provincial growth directive in mind, we need to plan for the future while keeping our existing residents in the forefront of that planning. The decisions reflected in this budget are an investment in our future. I am proud that we have a forward-thinking Council and Senior Leadership Team who are committed to planning ahead.


When the budget process began, we were looking at over a 16% operating increase, which included requests for 18 new full-time employees, we were also facing some serious financial pressures such as contractual staffing obligations, backing out our tax rate stabilization reserve & inflationary pressures on capital projects. With some hard number crunching, we have addressed these pressures by applying increased revenues realized by investment returns, increased revenues in programming and new assessment growth and I am very happy that we are not at 16% and have landed at a small 1.47% increase. This is the lowest operating tax levy the town has seen in over a decade with the exception of 2021’s covid budget.


Now in the spirit of full transparency, I do want to highlight one external pressure that many residents don’t like to hear about and that is staff & council compensation. Every 4 years, the town undergoes an independent, 3rd party municipal compensation review, or MCR, that scans where Stouffville ranks amongst our municipal peers.  Unfortunately, we have seen staff exit to a similar job at another municipality because of better compensation and over the years, we have lost some really good people. This year, we have the opportunity to implement the MCR that finally puts Stouffville on the same playing field as comparators like Aurora, Caledon, Clarington, East Gwillimbury, Georgina, Halton Hills, Newmarket & Innisfil to name a few.  The war for talent is fierce, and for every staff member we lose, it costs us, the taxpayers of Stouffville, approximately $32,000 in costs for recruitment, hiring, training, just to name a few. For the first time, this positions the town to not lose talented staff over compensation.


Also, within the MCR is also a review of council compensation. The review recommended that councillors receive a $3,000 increase while the mayor receive a $22,000 salary increase to match the average compensation of our comparators. I want to be fully transparent with you the public that I have included in the budget that council receive a $3,000 increase to our salaries but, I will be deferring any decision on increasing the mayor’s compensation to 2026.  In addition, the review recommended a $3,000 increase to the mayor’s car allowance which will also be included. This council compensation decision amounts to 0.0003 of a percent in our $78M operating budget. I understand the optics of council receiving a salary increase is never looked upon favorably by the public, but the MCR is the only 3rd party, arm’s length process we have to consider these changes.


When I first met with senior management in early October, I made 2 significant requests. I asked that staff hold any new staffing requests until the 2025 budget to allow us to fully implement the MCR in 2024 for our existing staff. This decision puts the town in a better financial position to support staffing requests in the 2025 budget, but you will see 3 new staff positions in this budget that I have added. One is a full cost recovery utility locate operator, one position, supported by Council last year is for the new skating trail operations and lastly, I included a fire inspector as the ongoing safety of our growing community is always top of mind.


I also asked staff to only recommend mission critical capital projects for 2024 which gives us the opportunity to catch up on carry-forward capital projects already approved by council. This is why you will see a much lower than expected or traditionally requested capital program. An overview of these investments can be seen on pages 68 and 69 of the budget book.


I want to thank staff again for their partnership with me to achieve these goals.


This year with only mission critical capital projects being advanced, 3 new FTEs and taking care of existing staff, we are catching up and positioning ourselves for the future. Considering projected revenues in 2025-2026 this budget sets us up for success.


In closing, we want to hear from you, the residents, on these budgets. With the legislative changes to how the budget process works, there was a potential for the public to not have any input into the budget. To eliminate that potential, I have called a Special Council Meeting for next Tuesday, November 21st at 7pm in Council Chambers. Members of the public are welcome to attend and speak to the budgets. The public is also welcome to submit comments by emailing [email protected].

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