Guelph-Eramosa officials defend infrastructure spending, tax hike

BRUCEDALE – Residents at a sparsely-attended public meeting on the Guelph-Eramosa 2020 budget were not impressed with a proposed 2.9 per cent local tax increase, but councillors defended their plan to continue putting aside money for infrastructure projects.

“The budget includes $269,000 in an infrastructure funding levy so we can keep our roads and bridges in good shape,” said finance director Linda Cheyne in an opening presentation.

The township plans to raise $7.1 million through taxation next year, supporting expenditures of $19.8 million. Council has made no changes to the budget presented by staff, and final approval is expected at the Dec. 16 meeting.

The proposed increase of $115,000 to the infrastructure levy represents a 1.65% tax increase. When combined with a 1.24% tax increase for new spending of $86,508 on general operations, the rounded total increase is 2.9%.

“Residents on fixed incomes are not getting a 2.9% (pay) increase,” said 4th Line resident Bill Teeter, noting the tax hike is higher than the 12-month increase in the Canadian consumer price index (CPI), which was 1.9% as of October.

“We try to shoot for the CPI, because that seems reasonable,” said Mayor Chris White. “We recognize the pressure on people on fixed incomes. In terms of our inflationary costs, it’s not a loaf of bread, but a deteriorating road.

“The longer we let them go, the more expensive they get. It’s a relatively small tax base to pay for a lot of infrastructure. We try to build up the reserves, but it’s a balance and it’s a challenge.”

The township tax increase will mean an extra $35 on the tax bill for a home assessed at $500,000.

The local tax increase will be blended with the Wellington County increase, tentatively at 3.4% according to White, and the education tax, which he said may not rise at all.

Township taxes make up 24% of the total tax bill, education 20% and the county 56%.

Councillors were adamant they do not want to have to close bridges due to insufficient capital investment. Councillor Bruce Dickieson said, “It would be irresponsible to go in with too low an increase.”

Added councillor Corey Woods, “I don’t think we can go any lower on the infrastructure renewal.”

Councillor Mark Bouwmeester said, “The amount allocated to capital is way less than we should.”

Councillor Louise Marshall said she concurred with everything the other members had said.

White said, “This township has the best infrastructure in the county, because we’ve been investing everything we can.”

He noted the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) has said that to maintain services and fully catch up on infrastructure needs, property taxes would have to rise 8.35% annually for 10 years on average across the province.

AMO says the federal and provincial governments should pay a greater share of infrastructure costs, as they have done in the past, reversing the trend of loading more costs onto municipalities.

New township costs, apart from infrastructure, include a 1.7% pay increase for staff, a 3% rise in the cost of health benefits, the hiring of a new full-time staff member in the recreation department and an additional 2% in the Grand River Conservation Authority levy.

On the plus side, instead of possibly losing the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund grant, it has been increased by $3,900 to $494,200. Federal gas tax funding has been maintained, dropping just $5,000 to $389,942. There has also been a 2.3% increase in growth-related assessment, providing new revenue of $156,000.