Woodstock residents' property tax rate will remain unchanged in 2022, although the town will collect more tax money thanks to a $35.6 million increase in assessed property value in 2022.
The tax rate will remain at $1.45 per $100 assessment in Woodstock inside — fully serviced — area and $1.40 for the outside area and the western end of the town's industrial park.
Through the combination of town growth and assessment increases to existing property, the assessment value jump will deliver an additional $516,249 to town coffers.
Woodstock, however, loses $171,658 of that extra revenue because of the reduction in the equalization grant from $880,163 in 2021 to $708,505 in 2022.
After the Tuesday, Nov 23, council meeting and approval of the nearly $10.6 million budget, Mayor Art Slipp welcomed the tax base increase, saying the town needed the additional revenue.
"That prevented us from having to deal with a potential tax increase," he said, "but that revenue was eaten up very, very quickly because of increases in wages and other things."
Slipp said holding the line on taxes while delivering needed services and improvements doesn't come easy for council and staff.
"It's a very, very difficult process. We go through it line by line. We spend a lot of time on it. The department heads have done a good job," he said.
Slipp said the council members are most excited about returning to a reasonable capital budget, which last year dropped to just over $1,300.
"That's why we borrowed for the first time ever," he said. "Council went into the discussions this year saying we're not going to borrow any more money. If we didn't have the assessment increase of between six and seven per cent, we would have still been in a very difficult position."
The mayor said Woodstock historically budgets between a half million and a million dollars for capital projects. The 2022 budget set aside more than $561,000 for capital purchases.
While the council earmarked a portion of the capital towards purchasing a fire truck, new police cruiser and paving, a large part of the budgeted capital funds remains unattached to a specific project.
Slipp said department heads, other staff, and council members would decide where to direct the remaining capital funds in December or January.
"The town's priorities will be looked at and dealt with first, so there may be some departments that don't get any capital projects this year," he said.
With the town's new well site about to come online, Slipp said, the town would have to look at installing a manganese treatment system similar to the one at its existing wellhead. He noted that town engineers are already developing cost estimates.
The mayor said the town also has gas-tax funds available for capital projects next year, noting a portion of those funds will cover the town's share of designated highway upgrades.
"We have a list of four or five gas-tax projects next year, too," he said.
While pleased with the increase in the town's tax base, Slipp said the town still has limited funds to deal with a long list of needed projects.
"We have more long-term needs than we can probably fund in the short term," he said. "The key is to set our priorities, so we know what we're going to have."
In addition to approving the general fund budget for 2022, council also approved the utility budget.
While the water and sewer rates remain unchanged, acting CEO Andrew Garnett said estimates see utility revenues increasing from $1.312 million in 2021 to $1.345 million in 2022.
"This is a sign that Woodstock is growing," he said.
The 2022 Woodstock budget again shows as the Woodstock Police Force continues to eat up the most significant share of town expenditures, with the town projecting to spend just over $2.6 million to deliver policing services in 2022, an increase of 1.56 per cent.
The AYR Motor Centre operations are second with $1.76 million in projected expenditures, down 6.73 per cent from 2021. Other recreational and cultural services will jump by 20 per cent to $840,135 in 2022. However, AYR Motor Centre and recreation costs will be partly offset by a projected $826,000 in revenue.
The budget will see the town's transportation costs decline slightly to $1.553 million in 2022, while the fire department also dropped a small amount to $906,825.
Woodstock's entire budget grew by 5.82 per cent.
During the regular council session, Garnett provided council members with a brief recap of the budget, noting that after 24 years with the town, this year marked the first time he delved that deep into the budgeting process.
"It was a learning experience," he said.
Council members thanked Garnett for his efforts, with Coun. Trina Jones praising the acting CAO for his availability during the process.
"I appreciate the correspondence back and forth," she said.
Slipp thanked Garnett, department heads, staff, and council for their contributions during the budget process but noted that passing the budget motion is not the final step. He explained the town must now submit the budget to the province, where it will undergo a detailed study before final approval.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun