KENILWORTH – Ward 3 county councillor Campbell Cork is concerned about Wellington County’s growing debt.
In his Feb. 10 update to Wellington North councillors, Cork stated, “The big news was the budget, of course, and there is lots of good stuff in the budget such as enhanced garbage and recycling collection.”
He also noted planned improvements at Wellington Terrace and a proposed new Arthur works garage.
“We are spending millions this year to make sure our very own Riverstown Landfill site continues to operate safely for the next 20-plus years,” Cork stated.
He added Wellington County is putting $400 million into its aging infrastructure, noting, “It’s a pretty big ticket item.”
Ride Well update
Cork said Ride Well, the county’s Uber-like ride sharing program, is picking up speed.
“It’s worth remembering that Ride Well is cheaper than Uber,” Cork noted. “One sticking point is that the Ride Well cars cannot go into the City of Guelph.”
He said for people with appointments within the city that means Ride Well only takes them to the edge of the city, at which point the individual must take a city bus or cab the rest of the way.
“I think that is a pretty major failing at this point,” he said.
“Our own system can’t even go to our county administration building (located in downtown Guelph).”
Cork added, “This is the same Guelph we keep hearing about that is supposed to be such a great friend of Wellington County.”
Cork said the financial forecast for the county for the next 10 years includes tax increases ranging from 3.3% to 4.3%.
He said for most of the 10 years, increases will hover at about 4%.
“Our mayor (Andy) Lennox at the last county meeting made the excellent point that we cannot afford those kind of increases any more,” he said.
Cork indicated he agrees with the mayor.
He said he was recently in the home of a Wellington North resident who worked hard all his life and is still working and approaching retirement.
“This person is basically living on tea and toast,” Cork said.
He added the person’s biggest worry is making his property tax payments and, “Another big worry is that he may not even be able to stay in his home.”
Cork added, “for me it is no wonder that the 10-year forecast has such high tax increases.”
He agreed the county has a lot of big projects on the go “and they also seem to have an unquenching desire to take on more such projects.”
Cork said the 10-year forecast includes $22 million for upgrades to the county administration centre.
“Most of that will be spent on building an underground parking garage in Guelph,” he said.
Cork added he takes issue with the county administration building being located in the city of Guelph, “outside our own county.”
“That is a discussion for another day,” he noted.
Relating to the budget, Cork said the building project will call for another $17-million in borrowing.
“The county is planning to take on another $42-million in debt over the next 10 years,” he said.
“These are big numbers and will move the county debt from where it is now, at $36 million, to $50 million by 2029.
“It is going to mean debt servicing costs will max out at around $8-million per year.
“I don’t agree with it.”
Additionally, Cork said the financial numbers “include nothing for the proposed Continuum of Care, which we are hearing more and more about and still spending money on, even though the project has not yet been approved.”
Cork stressed, “so much of this spending hinges on getting government grants, at a time when the province is trying to balance its own budget. A lot of that balancing is being done at the expense of grant funding to municipalities.”
Cork said the good news is that the county has promised discussion shortly regarding the tax rates within the 10-year forecast.
“But so often, these numbers simply become the truth after a certain period,” said Cork.
“I’m really looking forward to having that discussion away from the heat of the moment.”