Muskoka Lakes passes 2021 budget with 1.7 per cent tax rate hike

·2 min read

Following a year marred with financial uncertainty for many communities in the Muskoka Region, Muskoka Lakes Township has passed a 2021 budget including a modest property tax increase for homeowners of 1.7 per cent. That means a homeowner can expect to pay $4.12 more in taxes per $200,000 value of their property this year.

Council unanimously approved the $24.1 million budget at its meeting on Feb. 24.

"During these unprecedented times, I am pleased that council and staff worked together to create an extremely responsible budget," stated a message from Mayor Phil Harding in the 2021 approved budget.

To meet the pressures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the township received $616,000 from the provincial government from the Safe Restart Agreement Funding. They'll be using $419,000 of this funding to help with increased costs, lost revenue and as relief for taxpayers from the levy — $244,000-worth.

In an email to this newspaper, Harding said the province's added funding helped them weather COVID-19 related costs, allowing them to meet — and surpass — the tax levy goal they set for themselves of 2.5 per cent. He added each department refocussed their priorities to funnel costs to "must-have" items and remove anything additional, or "nice-to-have" items.

"We can expect that 2021 will be a year of needing to be flexible, nimble and adaptable," read part of Harding's budget message.

Several items in the operating budget got a boost: emergency service costs went up to $2.2 million this year from $1.5 million. The township attributes this bump to increased reserve money going toward fire service assets. Fire stations are getting $2.1 million this year. The township also increased the budget for bylaw enforcement by over $100,000, from $128,200 last year to $226,287. A statement from the township said council approved this to increase staffing for "a more proactive enforcement approach."

General administration costs are down by $1.04 million this year, with cuts in the departments of treasury, financing charges and IT. Costs in public service are up by around $817,000 this year, with boosts in funding primarily for roads.

The vote in favour of the 2021 budget was unanimous on Feb. 24. Speaking after the vote, Coun. Frank Jaglowitz described it as "reasonable" and said he was pleased with the way the budget was handled.

He noted, however, the $419,000 the township is taking from the COVID-19 relief fund will not be there in 2022, and he spoke of rising costs for next year.

"Although this is a good budget, there is a lot of work to be done," he told council. "Be prepared to roll your sleeves up for next year."

Zahraa Hmood is a Local Journalism Reporter with the Parry Sound North Star and MuskokaRegion.com. LJI is funded by the Government of Canada

Zahraa Hmood, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com