MUSKOKA LAKES – The Township of Muskoka Lakes passed a budget increase of 2.7 per cent on Friday, March 1.
The budget was passed during a special meeting, which Mayor Alice Murphy said was set to create a committee for the comprehensive zoning bylaw review.
“Council is very pleased that we have been able to finalize our budget at this early date,” she said.
The increase will mean a $2.54 increase per $100,000 assessment value for residential owners.
The budget was passed without much ado, other than funding for the heritage committee, which has been controversial during the last few budget meetings in Muskoka Lakes. During the final meeting on Friday, council made a $14,000 cut to the committee’s budget, leaving $46,200.
Coun. Brad Burgess, a member of the heritage committee, said he was disappointed in the cut and noted the township’s lack of interest in heritage in the past.
“I think we all have to remember that cultural heritage resources are a valued trust we’ve inherited from the past, and our role as councillors is to protect them in the future,” he said.
He said he is looking forward to the projects the committee began, especially any heritage districts.
Coun. Ron Brent, whose wife’s family has been in the area for 180 years, said he believes in heritage, but the fight for heritage is not so pure.
“The perception of the public is this has less to do with heritage and more to do about fighting the Bala Falls. And that’s the message that came to me loud and clear many times, and quite frankly I believe that myself,” Brent said.
He had a number of people approach him, email him, and call him about the budget, he said, and he would like to see the heritage budget reduced by $20,000 instead of $14,000.
He suggested the actual heritage expenses are probably twice as much as the budget reflects, once staff time is included.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t do things with heritage, it just means we do it at a slower rate and I think the public will receive it better,” he said.
Since the heritage act was put in place by the government of Ontario in 1975, Muskoka Lakes has designated four sites. Two churches were designated at the request of property owners in 2002 and 2003, and the township designated two of its own buildings in 2009. Others have been listed, but not designated.
In the past few years council has placed increasing importance on heritage values, creating a heritage committee and increasing the amount it spends on heritage matters from $1,000 in 2011 to $5,000 in 2012, and $46,200 in 2013.
Much of the money for the 2013 budget, $33,251, was spent on a Conservation Review Board hearing that took place in January.
Coun. Phil Harding asked how the heritage committee was able to cut $14,000 from their budget when a week ago council was told the committee planned to pursue a heritage district in Bala to the tune of $25,000.
He also asked how the remaining money was to be spent.
“I’m interested in how we’re spending the money before we approve the budget,” he said.
Burgess said the money will be spent for the year’s expenses, and under the reduced budget they will look at designating individual heritage sites in Bala that are already township properties.
“I think we can probably accomplish that — we’re not doing a full length-to-length review — and try to get this study done to designate the entire commercial district as a heritage designation,” he said.
He compared the money spent on that to the $600,000 set aside last year for Windermere’s shore wall to keep it heritage.
“I think we’re missing the big point here,” he said.
The overall budget also includes $8.2 million to provide all township services, including summer and winter road maintenance, planning and development services, fire and protective functions, recreation and cultural activities, and administrative functions. There is also $3.2 million set aside for the township’s roads and bridges, recreational activities, and fire department equipment.
There will be service improvements in bylaw enforcement, as well as community economic development due to two new positions in those areas for 2013. It also addresses a comprehensive zoning bylaw review and improvements to long-term capital asset management.
In a recorded vote, all councillors except Ruth Nishikawa, who was absent for the discussion, and Harding, approved the budget.
The fire budget was approved separately by all councillors.