It could be the most involved Lake Country budget process since the community incorporated as a municipality 20 years ago.
Lake Country council will get its first look at the 2016 budget document on Tuesday in a special council meeting that not only presents the first draft of the 2016 budget but will also deal with Lake Country’s 20 year Transportation For Tomorrow Plan as a separate document.
“Indeed, it is (involved) every year, but this year particularly because of the things we would like to do,” said Baker of the budget process, which as of Tuesday was proposing a 2.85 per cent tax increase.
“Whether we have the resources to do them or not is the question,” he added.
After holding strategic planning sessions that set priorities over the next five years, Lake Country Councillors will see preliminary budget on Tuesday for the first time. A final budget won’t be set until into the new year.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in the 20 years we’ve been incorporated but we still haven’t got the big assets in terms of enough diversity in our tax base,” he said. “We have to be very wary of individual residential properties and we don’t want to tax them out of being able to live in this community. We have to be careful about what our ambitions are.”
The Transportation For Tomorrow Plan will be funded mostly by taxpayers and council is contemplating how to fund the plan, which calls for $30 million over 20 years to improve roads. While it serves as a major plan to deal with 200 kilometres of aging roads, there is also many other projects that are needed.
“The Transportation For Tomorrow Plan is going to be one of the biggest tax hits because we are behind with the roads we inherited at incorporation,” said Baker. “We are getting more walk-ways and safer areas to walk and drive in our community but it all takes extra funding.”
Together with the acquisition of the CN Rail corridor earlier this year, a move that needed a referendum to get voter’s approval and increase taxes, some Lake Country taxpayers have complained that taxes have been rising at a rate that is too fast.
However Baker said residents can let the municipality know what projects they want prioritized in the process as there is much work to be done and the community still has a small tax base.
“Instead of saying too much (taxes) we have to ask them what they want us not to do,” said Baker. “We need roads, water and sewer, those dirt infrastructure, and people have to realize there are improvements that need doing but we won’t do them beyond our capacity. We have to be prudent in what we take on and what we can do.”
Budget and council meetings are open to the public.