Bridgewater grappling with tough budget decisions

2015-16 shortfall estimated at over $1 million

Bridgewater’s budget will be tough to balance.

At a March 30 budget discussion, town staff and council members tried to even out the operating budget for 2015-16.

The potential shortfall, combined with additional requests, amounts to approximately $1.2 million. To decrease this figure, staff and council considered cuts to potential capital projects from a preliminary five-year capital budget and eliminating projects from a list of outstanding requests to council.

“What’s different this year is that deficit, that preliminary deficit, is much larger than it has been in the past,” said Mayor David Walker. “There’s much more cuts that have to be made to get to a balanced budget, more than perhaps the last number of years.”

New traffic lights at the corner of King and Dufferin streets were supposed to have monitors and cabinets replaced, with loops installed in the asphalt to detect cars. The project, costing $55,000, might be eliminated. An engineering design of $10,000 to look at relocating the stairs at the fire hall and fencing for the fire hall and training facility, worth $20,000, could also be put on hold.

Information technology projects of an estimated $18,000, including network and software upgrades and installing e-billing for the finance department could also be paused.

A request for a non-union salary review worth $30,000 could be put to the side, along with additional benches for the Centennial Trail amounting to $8,000.

Two additional items could also be added.

The draft capital budget contained $200,000 for pavement management, which includes pothole repairs, as did the draft operating budget. Council asked to increase the amount allocated to pavement management to $500,000 after the rough winter greatly affected the town’s roads.

The second additional project was not originally included in the five-year capital budget plan, as council did not provide an associated direction when it was presented. There was $100,000 set aside for Grinder’s Square All-wheels Park in the draft proposal, after four council members voted in favour of including it. Its planning committee had asked for $200,000 from the town in order to secure funding over four years from other potential partners.

“If you leave it out it’s not going to come back to the table,” said Councillor Andrew Tanner. “It’s either put it in, or it’s going to be a dead project.”

As the project was not going to be started this year, Dawn Keizer, the town’s chief financial officer, suggested moving the amount from the operating budget to a reserve fund, which would then decrease the amount needed for the capital budget.

She also suggested possible ways of dealing with the shortfall. “There aren’t a lot of options, and it’s quite a big number, so it’s probably going to be in the expenditure area, possibly with reserve transfers.”

Potential funding sources that council is considering include a 15 per cent increase in sewer rates, which would amount to around $110,000 in total, as well as deferring the principal payments on capital reserve loans, an amount in the area of $293,200.

The town is not permitted to present a budget with a shortfall, and so a proposed budget, which was originally scheduled to be tabled April 10, will be put on hold until balanced. If these changes are implemented, the town would still have to deal with a $916,000 shortfall.

“The next stage now is to have the departments come in with their departmental budgets and have a look at what their budget is, what some of the changes are and what opportunities we might have to reduce costs there,” said Mayor Walker. “That process coupled with additional examination of the capital has to get us to zero, and it’s not going to be easy.”

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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