BERWICK – “It’s a big day with lots of numbers,” township of North Stormont Mayor Jim Wert said. “Every time I go through this process, the complexity of our accounting division and the thoroughness that we’re able to track numbers is outstanding.”

Wert made this statement at the close of an all-day budget session on Feb. 16. The session began with opening statements from members of council followed by an outline of how the day would progress from director of finance and treasurer Carly Wheeler.

By the end of the first day of budget deliberations, council was presented with three options for the tax rate. The first option would be to reduce the tax rate to between zero and two per cent, which would require roughly between $33,000 to $97,000 to be cut from the budget as presented. The second option would be an increase to the tax rate of 3.03 per cent, which would leave the budget as presented. The third option would see an increase to the tax rate of somewhere between 3.03 and four per cent, which would allow staff to add some projects back into the budget.

“It was difficult to bring it down to three per cent,” Wheeler said.

Members of council gave their opinions on what they’d like to see happen. Then they discussed the pros and cons of a zero per cent increase, an increase that would allow things to remain at the status quo, and an increase that would allow for money to be put into needed infrastructure upgrades, as well as into reserves.

“It’s a mistake to do a zero per cent increase because the average annual CPI for 2021 was 3.4 per cent,” deputy clerk Mary McCuaig said. “This municipality still has to buy gas, still has to buy products, still has to pay for all its materials. The cost of those materials is going to incorporate that 3.4 per cent StatsCan cost of living increase. So, the municipality is paying that cost-of-living increase, but it’s not raising those funds. So, having a zero per cent increase in taxes means that we’re actually falling behind. So, it’s a big mistake to lower taxes. At least maintain what you’ve got, at least.”

The second draft of the budget is to be presented to North Stormont politicians at the Mar. 8 council meeting. Chief administrative officer Craig Calder said staff has incorporated council’s notes from the Feb. 16 meeting.

“The revised budget, which staff feels addresses all council requests put forward at the Feb. 16 meeting, are included in the current revised draft,” Calder said.

The number of drafts needed to complete the budget depends on council’s reaction to the second draft. If more revisions are needed, staff will plan accordingly, Calder said. The Feb. 16 agenda package can be found on the municipal website and the meeting is available for viewing on North Stormont’s Facebook page.