The County’s 2021 budget started with a projection of a 3.86 per cent increase to its portion of the property tax due to cost pressures ranging from infrastructure to insurance to shoreline bylaw enforcement.
Council did its first line-by-line review of the budget Jan. 11 and expects to pass the final version in February or March. CAO Mike Rutter said several cost pressures, as well as service-level enhancements, have led to the increase.
“We do know this is a very challenging year and that may result in more changes than we’ve seen in the past. Staff understand our work is not necessarily done,” Rutter said. “A 3.86 per cent increase is a challenge in the current economic climate, there’s no doubt.”
Staff identified several new expenses contributing to the increase, including $88,000 for a new shoreline preservation bylaw officer, a $77,892 increase in insurance costs, $66,000 for a development charges study, a $50,000 increase in the insurance deductible, $50,000 more for physician recruitment, a provincially mandated $46,344 increase in the municipal transfer to the health unit and a $33,725 increase to employee benefits.
Rutter also said there is some pressure with reduced funding from upper-level governments, such as a $36,200 reduction in the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund, the main provincial assistance grant to municipalities. But he added COVID-associated funding from those governments – such as $287,000 from the province under the Safe Restart Agreement – has helped.
“Without the safe restart money and the COVID money that the federal and provincial governments have provided us, this would be a very different-looking budget,” Rutter said. “While we will talk about some funding reductions, the government has certainly come through for us in other ways.”
Staff plan to have council review the budget over the next few regular meetings, until the council is comfortable approving it.
Coun. Carol Moffatt said she hopes that format does not overtly hasten the process and council questions the budget.
“It would be very easy to just not ask a lot of questions,” Moffatt said. “We haven’t had a lot of questions today; I’m hoping because our wheels are all turning with this first look.”
Coun. Andrea Roberts attributed the lack of questions to staff and council being aligned.
“This is the third budget that this council has gone through together. So much is from council direction from our strategic plan for this term,” Roberts said. “It goes to show how staff and council are working in tandem … I think we’re really close and I think we’re going to just be fine-tuning some things.”
Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander