Tay council has set its target for the next municipal tax rate levy increase.
During their regular council meeting this week, councillors expressed differing opinions on what the overall percentage should be with many aligning with Mayor Ted Walker's suggestion.
“As far as the target,” said Walker, “my suggestion would be 1%. We had a discussion at the county (Tuesday), and they had set it as a 2% goal. I think going up 4.5% or 3% is not good. We’re still coming out of this pandemic.
“You know, it’s okay for us to say 3% or 4%, but that’s got a big impact on a lot of people who have had a real rough time, and that’s still going to be hitting them next year because this is for 2022. Our past increases have been zero and 1.5% or 1.8%,” Walker stated.
A straw poll was taken with councillors Sandy Talbot, Jeff Bumstead, and Deputy Mayor Gerard LaChapelle agreeing with Walker on the 1% increase.
Coun. Paul Raymond preferred a higher percentage, but urged the public to understand that the target for the increase was just that: a target.
“I’m more at the 3% mark, with the understanding that we’re only creating a placemark to start with,” Raymond explained. "This is just a working number. And 3% is a good working number to start to target for.”
Coun. Mary Warnock raised her hand for a 2.5% increase, while Coun. Barry Norris spoke toward a 4.5% increase given the scope of the report as well as the addition of the tax rate stabilization reserve within the same motion.
“They say that (the reserve) constitutes 1.5%; we could always dig into it next year to keep that increase around 3%,” Norris reasoned.
Staff presented the report which addressed five key areas for consideration in next year’s budget as well as for the 2022-2031 long-term plan.
In addition to the tax levy increase, a discussion was brought up about federal gas tax funding, which had been used to fund infrastructure projects in past years. Council spoke on the staff recommendation that the funds be used toward Victoria Harbour wastewater plant upgrades until 2023, whereas council opted to put it toward roads instead.
Bumstead appreciated gaining ground on road maintenance, but cautioned that bridges are an often overlooked part of the rotation within the Ontario Infrastructure Grant, which Tay also receives.
“For every eight-to-ten kilometres we do per year on average, I get another ten-to-twenty kilometres identified by residents looking to be repaired the same year, so we are still in a catch-up phase,” said Bumstead.
Council agreed to the other three of the five listed items within the report without hesitation: The tax levy for policing services in 2022 remain consistent with 2021; the surplus of roughly $146,000 transfer from the contingency reserve to the tax rate stabilization reserve, which Norris had referenced; and that the phased-in approach to increasing reserve transfers for infrastructure replacements continues.
As the amended motion was being drawn up, Walker added that staff would be challenged to come up with efficiencies, and that some projects might need to be temporarily postponed. He concluded that having a tax rate increase three times higher than previous budgets while entering into the last year of council’s term made little sense.
“If for some reason we can’t achieve the 1%, then we’ll have to look at some other options. I’m sure staff will come in well below 1%.”
Walker, who was situated in council chambers for the meeting along with some members of staff, chuckled upon their reactions to his lighthearted comment.
“I see a lot of heads shaking in this room,” he added with shared laughter from all.
Regular meetings of Tay council are held virtually on the fourth Wednesday of every month. The 2021 budget direction and process staff report, as well as the agenda for all council meetings, is available on the Tay website.
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca