Council held three Budget Meetings and approved the 2015 Annual Budget on January 29th. The budget reflects the direction set out by Council through the funding of priorities that were adopted in December after the municipal election. In a nutshell, the process goes somewhat like this: Council sets its priorities and directs staff to produce a budget based on those priorities; staff then prepares a budget including those priorities and prepares a list of projects based on a number of technical criteria and existing plans (for instance, the water infrastructure projects follow a schedule recommended by the Water Advisory Committee and approved by Council as part of the Water Master Plan, which was adopted in 2012). Finally, recommendations are submitted to Council for discussion and possible adoption. This year, all the priorities set out to be initiated or completed in 2015 have been included in the budget and approved. They total just in excess of $3 million and they include the acquisition of the CN Rail Corridor. But let us review the main points of the 2015 budget.

There are three main funds that make up the whole municipal budget in Lake Country. The Water Fund, which is based on water user fees, deals with water operations and infrastructure, such as water quality, pumps, water lines, etc. Water infrastructure costs are based on a 20-Year Water Master Plan which was approved in 2012. The same plan provides for the financial wherewithal to fund any water projects. So from a revenue perspective, the plan was approved with an annual $50 increase for five years (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017). The main project that was approved by Council is the second phase of Universal Metering for a total of $1.5 million. The first phase was completed last year and provided metering for agricultural properties. This year, the program focuses mostly on residential properties not previously metered. The third and final phase will be initiated and completed in 2016 with two thirds of the funds likely coming from the Building Canada fund a grant program with moneys provided by both the federal and provincial government. Council also approved an annualized expense of $20,000 for the cleaning of Vernon Creek.

The Sewer Fund draws its revenues from three sources: a parcel tax, which affects those who have access to a sewer line; a user fee, which is charged to all those who are connected to the municipal sewer system; and an environmental levy, which is applied to all taxpayers. These three sources of revenue have not been updated for almost twenty years. We were hoping to have the Liquid Waste Management Plan (similar to the Water Master Plan) completed in order to establish proper levels of funding for infrastructure renewal but the Ministry of Environment has made some changes to the draft plan that need to be reviewed by the District. We are hoping to have the plan completed and approved this year. In the meantime, however, there are some projects that need attention and so Council decided to increase the sewer parcel tax of $50 this year. The first project that the District is targeting for 2016 is the replacement of the Seymour and Clement lift stations. This project will solve some capacity needs and odour issues that have been on our radar for some time. An additional annualized expense of $20,000 was approved by Council to ensure the proper replacement of sand needed in the sewer rapid infiltration basins as part of the Waste Water Treatment Plant operations.

Finally the General Fund is the catch-all fund where all the other expenses are captured (Fire Protection, Policing, Public Works, Parks, etc.). This year, Council is dealing with some minor operational increases in the areas of public works (specifically snow clearing and dust control), and parks and facilities maintenance. In addition, the strategic priorities projects total just in excess of $3 million and additionally, there are other important projects to be completed as well such as the replacement of the Arena ice sheet ($1.5 million) and road upgrades in conjunction with water upgrades at The Lakes ($350,000 for roads and $1.15 million for water).

In order to balance the budget, which is mandated by local government legislation, Council needs to offset operational increases and cost of projects in the General Fund with new growth (new taxation coming from new homes and buildings, including improvements to existing buildings), which this year is $203,000 and a tax increase. This year Council decided for a 3.13% tax increase which in dollars is $10.29 for every $100,000 of assessed value. The average home in Lake Country is valued at $492,000 so the total increase to that home is $50.66.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the financing of the CN Rail Corridor. I have read many different interpretations and numbers in the papers. An article on Castanet stated that the budget did not include the cost of the corridor. This implies that our taxpayers would be on the hook for more than what I have just written. In a letter to the Daily Courier, a reader wrote that Lake Country tax increase will be five point forty four percent with an additional two percent because of the rail purchase.

I am not sure where those numbers or assumptions come from. The reality is that Council has approved its 2015 budget which includes the purchase of the Rail Corridor and at a tax increase of 3.13% all other expenses included. I invite you to check with our Chief Financial Officer who will be happy to show you the budget.