Midland council is gripping the town chequebook tightly.
As the December budget discussions draw near, members of the committee of the whole met recently regarding a report where staff laid out what pressures were ahead for the town.
Chief financial officer Lindsay Barron presented a brief overview of the report, for which updates had been happening faster than could be amended.
“This is an outlook; it’s not the budget,” Barron stated at the start.
“Good news, which I think we could all use tonight; we did get the OPP billing, just yesterday actually. The estimate is much less – and it’s right on par to what we’re paying this year," said Barron who tempered the information by sharing that the cost of Midland’s upcoming move to a single OPP detachment board would incur its own costs.
“We also have the Midland Bay Landing,” said Barron. “The report recommends we begin paying off that debt because right now, that $4.5 million is being offset by our other reserves. If we continue to hold that property and we need those reserves to fund our long-term capital plan, we’re going to run into a cash-flow issue.”
She recommended paying the debt internally to avoid that outcome.
“The outlook of (a 5 to 7 per cent tax increase) today, which you could arguably say has gone down to 5 to 6 per cent given the OPP billing, could continue to fall if those tough (budget) decisions are made," Barron said.
Noting that Tiny Township had retracted from contributions to Midland Public Library and the North Simcoe Sports and Recreation Centre at an impact of roughly $125,000 for the upcoming budget cycle, Mayor Bill Gordon explained that he had been in conversation with Tiny Mayor Dave Evans to confirm the withdrawal.
“The bottom line is: they are turning the tap off,” said Gordon. “They won’t be subsidizing either Penetanguishene or Midland, or Springwater I believe, any longer for libraries or sports and rec services.
“The ‘why’ is really up to them; we are just left to deal with the implications of this loss of subsidy,” he added.
The report was to be received as information on the evening’s heavy schedule, but Coun. Bill Meridas and Jamie-Lee Ball pounced on the opportunity to drill further, in anticipation of getting into the weeds of the multiple-day December budget deliberations.
Questions regarding the viability of the Economic Development Corporation of North Simcoe were raised as Midland council had reduced the organization’s budget last year pending measurable results.
Gordon, an EDCNS board member by choice, stated that the group would be approaching North Simcoe council meetings with deputations on their progress and with a financial request at that time.
When the topic of the Huronia Airport Commission was raised, a lengthy discussion arose that reminded council that while Midland was the key stakeholder in the tri-municipality agreement along with Penetanguishene and land owners Tiny Township, the approval of a 61.4-acre land sale earlier this year didn’t mean Midland would see any money come back as a result.
“We will still not be the recipients of any profit from any of these sales, correct?" asked Ball.
Gordon replied: “In a nutshell, yes. There is no path to profitability at the airport, ever, from what we’re being told.
“Until there’s passenger service there, which there is no plan for, there’s no path to profitability; but it will help by reducing the draw on the three funding partners of which we’re the majority, if they have money in the bank from actually having sold the lands," said Gordon.
Ball then pointed out that Tiny Township would be removing contributions to Midland’s library and sports complex, despite receiving revenue as a result of airport land sales. In response, Gordon noted that the HAC would still require covering costs for lawyers and planners in the land sale.
“If we walk away – which by the way, I know we talked about it at this council, and I’ve been to the commission that this is likely a motion that will come before this budget – if we do choose to walk away, we basically have to pay our share of the debt and that’s the end of it,” said Gordon.
“Thankfully, there isn’t a ton of debt at the airport, but we’d be writing a cheque to walk away,” he added. “But the net benefit to the taxpayer of Midland would still be ahead of the game, because what we’d have to pay would be less as owners to be fair.”
The 2024 budget outlook report is available in full in the council agenda on the town of Midland website.
Council meetings are held every third Wednesday, and can be viewed on Rogers TV cable channel 53, or through the livestream on the Rogers TV website. Archives of council meetings are available through Rogers TV and on the Town of Midland’s YouTube channel.