2023 Budget process begins with 6.35 percent proposed tax hike

While it’s not yet official, a 6.35 percent tax increase is being proposed by Chatham-Kent’s budget planners to cover its 2023 budget.

With community consultations and deliberations still to come, the first budget of this term would have a $200 impact on the average household. The assessment is currently based on the 2016 provincial assessment of $173,000.

The proposed budget maintains all current levels of public services with no closures or cuts to service.

The biggest chunk of the 6.35 percent hike comes from a 3.65 percent increase in infrastructure spending, responsible for 58 percent of the recommended tax increase, with 2.3 percent of that based on inflation.

Some of the larger projects that the municipality plans this year include spending $1.5 million on Wallaceburg’s Lou Stonehouse walking bridge, $4.1 million on road rehabilitation on Dufferin Ave. and $4.5 million on vehicle and equipment replacement.

According to Budget Chair Brock McGregor, with inflation numbers rising, it was apparent there would be a significant increase in this year’s budget.

“Watching that inflation number go up, you can kind of do the math in your head and see where we were headed,” said McGregor. “But still, when we’re used to these 1.5, 2, 3 percent budget increases, it is a bit of a startling number to start at, certainly.”

Chatham-Kent Chief Financial Officer Gord Quinton said during the draft budget that council would need to spend $124 million annually to maintain all of its assets fully. He highlighted in the 2023 budget it is spending $62 million.

“Put another way, we can only accomplish about half of the rebuilds and infrastructure improvements that we should be doing,” Quinton said. “By not doing maintenance and upkeep required, a community’s infrastructure will eventually crumble and will eventually start to fail, and none of us want that in our community.”

Quinton added council’s direction was to deliver a budget with an increase no higher than 8.35 percent.

According to Michael Duben, Chief Administrative Officer, council must make decisions to get down to some lower number while at the same time trying to maintain infrastructure commitments.

“It’s a really difficult year, especially with inflation and uncertainty going forward,” said Duben.

Duben credited staff members for their work in putting the draft budget together.

“This is a really challenging economic climate,” he said. “I don’t think any CAO across the province or any treasurer relishes presenting a budget. It’s a really difficult year, especially with inflation and uncertainty going forward.”

Ward 3 Councillor Steve Pinsonneault said he knew the 2023 budget would be a challenging one. He said his wish for this year’s budget is to come up with a respectable increase where amenities such as arenas and libraries aren’t lost.

“Currently, it is too high. We have to find a happy medium,” said Pinsonneault. “With inflation as high as it is, we are getting less out of our money.”

The local councillor also said the majority of complaints he receives are for the conditions of the roads. He also highlighted the fact inflation does not make things easier for people who are on a fixed income.

The next step in the budget process is a pair of Facebook Live events being held online to garner public feedback. They will take place on Chatham-Kent’s Facebook page on Jan. 18 at noon and Jan. 19 at 7 p.m.

Budget deliberations will take place in the Chatham-Kent Civic Centre on Jan. 25, 26 and 31. If needed, additional meetings have been set aside for Feb. 1 and 2.

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News