MORRISBURG – South Dundas council passed the proposed 2018 budget by the slimmest of margins and with more than a little discomfort and drama on Tues., Feb. 6.

The budget will see a two-per-cent residential tax rate increase, which equates to a net tax levy of nearly $6.6 million

Earlier in the evening, before the proposed budget was tabled, council was tasked with carving out $5,000 of the approximately $24,000 from the grants and donations budget requested by local organizations. Seventeen applications were received on time with a total request of $23,956.68, which included dollar values for in-kind support offered by the municipality. As council proceeded through the list, item by item several objections were voiced by councillors. First, Deputy-Mayor Jim Locke and Councillor Archie Mellan didn’t like public money being spent on events that weren’t necessarily free to the public.

“I don’t feel comfortable with us giving money to something that somebody charges admission to,” said Mellan.

As the list dragged, frustration started to grow and Councillor Bill Ewing attempted to offer a quick solution.

“Somewhere we should be saying the maximum anybody can get for a grant is X amount of dollars,” said Ewing.

Added Mayor Evonne Delegarde: “We have the ability to do that right now.”

Seeing an opportunity to shorten what was turning into a lengthy process, acting deputy treasurer Shawn Mason offered council an exit.

“Your bigger asks are the Matilda Memorial Recreation Committee, the Chamber of Commerce and its six projects, and the Canada Day committee. If you cut those to $2,600 per [applicant] you come in almost at $19,000,” said Mason.

Instead, Councillor Marc St. Pierre, concerned that a hack and slash approach wasn’t fair, offered a lengthy explanation and solution of his own.

“We tried to bring this up four years ago and the problem is we have no basis on how we come up with what’s fair and what’s not fair… we can’t do it now because we want to pass this and give some money out so they can start planning. What we should be doing is giving a list of 10 questions and if you qualify on the 10 questions maybe it’s a maximum of $2,000 and if they qualify on seven out of 10 they get $1,500… it’s based on the scale,” said St. Pierre.

After more than 20 minutes, council had only managed to remove $1,613. With patience wearing thin, Locke proclaimed what most were thinking.

“This is the most ridiculous exercise,” he said.

To which Mayor Evonne Delegarde replied: “Nine years I’ve seen the same thing happen.”

After 29 minutes, council mercifully moved to accept the grants and donations budget as it was minus the savings of the $1,613 they had found.

When it came time to discuss the big numbers of the 2018 budget, St. Pierre was first to wade into the debate and set a decisive tone.

“When I see that we’re reducing sidewalk repairs when that’s an absolute need [and] when we’re not putting money towards our infrastructure and our bridge repairs, which is an absolute need, yet we’re going to take $600,000 out of reserves and build a maintenance facility for three months, essentially, and do a full expansion of this parking lot whether it’s budgeted for or not, I just don’t think that’s right,” he said. “I don’t think allocating the money towards these types of items at this point in time is right.  We should be putting the money towards our needs and that’s not our need.  Our waste dump is a need.  I’m having a very hard time and to be quite honest with you, I’m not going to support this budget as it sits today.”

After a lengthy January deliberation day afforded all council members the opportunity to voice their objections and concerns, St. Pierre had reservations he couldn’t overcome.

Delegarde was wary of re-opening budget discussions so late in the process.

“I can understand where you’re coming from, but I think council had a pretty good discussion on budget day and we ended up with the draft budget as it was so unless there’s any general consensus from the council to change anything we will deal with what’s proposed,” said Delegarde.

Ewing, the loudest critic of a new public works building, which has been budgeted at $398,500, reasserted his view: “I have to agree with councillor St. Pierre. The money for our building should be spent elsewhere. I wasn’t in favour of it during budget deliberations and I’m still not.”

With Delegarde and Locke on one side and Ewing and St. Pierre on the other, a frustrated Mellan once again found himself in the middle left to decide whether this draft of the budget would survive or not.

“Let’s redo the budget! We’ll just throw that whole day out and we flush eight hours down the drain and we’ll redo the thing,” said Mellan.

To which St. Pierre replied: “Vote the way you want to vote.”

“I’m going to. This is crazy. Here we are now… and now we’re going to go back and rehash the whole bloody budget again. It is what it is,” exclaimed an exasperated Mellan.

With the risk of the debate devolving further and with the futile penny pinching of the grants and donations budget still fresh in her mind, Delegarde moved quickly to put the budget to a vote after an eight-minute discussion. Ewing and St. Pierre opposed while Delegarde and Locke were in favour with Mellan in the middle casting the deciding vote.