COUNTY OF WELLINGTON – County council has directed staff to work with each of its committees to get the tax rate increase down to at least 1.25 per cent.
As it currently stands, the operating budget is projected to total $232.9 million with a tax levy increase of 2.5 per cent.
At a special budget meeting Monday, county treasurer Ken DeHart outlined 2021’s budget.
In an email, DeHart said this works out to an additional $16 per $100,000 of assessment.
The county’s portion of the tax bill varies between each member municipality but DeHart said it averages out to 54 per cent of the total bill — the other portions go to the township and to education.
At the meeting, DeHart explained that enhancements to solid waste collection and increases in roads capital projects as the biggest drivers of this increase.
Council members were largely in agreement that they needed to work to get this tax rate down after a difficult year financially on residents.
“Two and a half per cent may sound like a small number but any increase in property taxes is going to be hard to swallow,” said Andy Lennox, Wellington North mayor.
He stressed that he is supportive of the financial policies they have in place but this is the year to break them.
Mapleton mayor Gregg Davidson echoed this sentiment.
“For this, we need to dig deeper,” Davidson said, “I believe we can achieve a further reduction.”
Some suggestions from councillors to offset included dipping into reserves, deferring capital projects, delaying new hires, taking on more debt and using the year-end surplus.
DeHart said in his presentation that the county is projecting to have a 2020 year-end surplus higher than the previously projected one of $2.4 million but couldn’t give an exact figure until the audit is presented in the spring.
DeHart said he was open to listening to suggestions but cautioned council against any artificial reductions to the levy, like a one-time large dip into reserves, as this will have an effect in future tax rate increases.
“We typically don’t just reduce levy impact by the surplus because you immediately have to make up that amount in the following years,” DeHart said.
He stressed that any changes to the budget need to be sustainable and to have a long-term view.
Davidson put forward a motion to have staff work with the various county committees to get the tax rate increase down to 1.25 per cent or lower which passed.
DeHart said in an email that lowering the tax rate to this level means the committees need to reduce roughly $1.4 million overall.
The committees of the County of Wellington will be looking at each department’s budget this month and a final approval will come at the end of January.
Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com