Guelph-Eramosa takes 6.3% tax increase to public meeting

Guelph-Eramosa council planned to bring a draft budget with a 6.34 per cent increase in 2016 municipal taxes to a Feb. 18 public meeting.

That includes a 4.36% increase over last year’s tax rate with an additional 1.98% infrastructure levy.

The blended rate increase, which includes municipal, Wellington County and education taxes, will come in at 3%.

For an average home assessed at $401,592 municipal taxes will increase $67 to $1,117, of which $21 will go exclusively to infrastructure needs. Total taxes will increase $130 to a total of $4,467.

For every $100,000 of property assessment:

– municipal taxes are proposed to increase $17 to $278, with about $5 dedicated strictly to infrastructure projects; and

– total taxes will increase $32 to a total of $1,112.

The budget recommends the township raise just over $6 million from taxes this year.  

In a previous discussion on Feb. 5, council indicated municipal taxes could rise 7.1%. However, at a special meeting on Feb. 10, council discussed strategies to lower the base tax increase.

“Because we’ve agreed on the (infrastructure) levy we need to take the base budget down just a little bit because … there is a tax fatigue, there’s a tax capacity, there’s a tolerance within the community for certain levels of taxes and we all know the infrastructure deficit is an unending pit and we could always use a lot more money, but then there are people on fixed incomes and we all know the story that this is very difficult,” Mayor Chris White said.

“Raising taxes ever is not a pleasant thing so you have to be reasonable and balanced.”

Council lowered the base budget increase for 2016 by $38,000 – from 5.14% down to 4.36% – by making the following changes:

– reducing the cost of living increase from 2% to 1.7%, saving $13,000;

– removing $15,000 from the fire department’s salary line, decreasing the proposed amount to $300,000; and

– removing a $10,000 transfer into planning reserves.

White specified these three changes do not impact future budgets in any way, whereas if infrastructure projects had been pushed back, the township would still have to address the costs in future years.

“One of the ideas in a budget if you remove something that you have to do later, you’re not helping anybody,” he said. “When you change your budget to try to create some room for this infrastructure levy, we moved on a couple of items that will not affect us going forward.”

Councillor Mark  Bouwmeester said he was comfortable with these changes even though he didn’t think everyone would be “happy.”

“People have to realize we’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars of assets and there’s a cost to maintain those,” he said. “We need all the help we can get. It’s got to be a multi-pronged approach so if we’re committed to that … moving forward, and it sounds like we are, then that’s great. I think the community needs to realize that as well.”

White said the next step is to decide what will happen with the infrastructure levy in the future.

Councillor David Wolk said, “I think it should be higher than two but I realize we have to be sensitive to the public appetite.

“But I think going forward we need to look at this thing in a very serious way and let’s not get locked in as we go forward in future years, let’s not get locked into the thought that we could only go 2%.”

Council will discuss how to address the infrastructure levy in future budgets at a later date.

White said that by considering the levy and implementing it now, the township is in a better position to negotiate with other levels of government for funding because it has a tangible example of proactively trying to raise additional funds.

“We need to map out, over a prolonged period, understanding at the end of the day we can’t tax our way out of the infrastructure deficit … we need help from other levels of government and so forth, but we have to manage this responsibly with the resources we have and getting refocused on the roads and bridges is the way to go,” White said.  

Council planned to hold a public meeting to discuss the budget on Feb. 18 at 7pm.