Wellington County considers 3.3% tax increase in 2020 budget

ABOYNE – Wellington County is considering a 3.3 per cent tax increase for the average homeowner in 2020.

At the Jan. 6 special meeting, county councillors heard that the estimated 2020 budget is $268.6 million, with $229.8 million going to operating costs and $38.8 million to capital costs.

The increase to this year’s tax levy, or the amount raised through taxation, can be broken out as follows:

– 1.2% will go towards standardized weekly organics and recycling collection;

– 0.5% will go towards provincial funding changes to Children’s Early Years and OMPF (Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund);

– 0.4% for improved patient care at Wellington Terrace;

– 0.3% for rural addressing signage project;

– 0.2% towards county asset management resources;

– 0.2% towards hospital capital grant debt charges; and

– 0.2% towards Ride Well community transportation.

The new land ambulance station redevelopment projects have been put on hold for a year due to uncertainty about provincial funding.

So no new ambulance stations will be built this year.

Weekly organic and recycling pickup

As of July 1, all Wellington County residents will receive weekly recycling and organics collection as well as bi-weekly user-pay garbage collection. This will include collection on both sides of the road and a leaf and yard waste collection.

This roll out will include $2.4 million in additional operating costs over two years. In 2020 it will cost an additional $1.2 million.

Councillor and Erin Mayor Allan Alls asked why the garbage truck has to pick up on both sides of the road.

“That’s got to double the cost for the driving time,” Alls said. “Is it because we’re worried about people crossing the road?

“I mean to me there’s a savings there and I don’t know how much, it’s probably nothing but it’s something I think you should look at.”

Councillor and Guelph-Eramosa Mayor Chris White said it’s based on a survey that went out to the public.

“They asked them what they wanted,” he said. “Organics has been on the list for a long time.”

He also brought up equitable service throughout the county.

“You’ve got a senior or somebody who’s expected to take their garbage across the road, put it on somebody else’s yard front every single time?” White asked, adding people may wonder why one side of the road has the pickup and not the other.

Councillor and Mapleton Mayor Gregg Davidson said Mapleton has had complaints about having to take the garbage across the road for pickup.

Councillor Don McKay said it took him about 15 minutes to cross Highway 6 in Morriston one day before Christmas.

“If I had to go across the road … to put the garbage out it would probably take me about a half an hour to get across the road … and then get back,” he said. “It is certainly a safety issue.”

Children’s Early Years and OMPF

The provincial government has announced changes to the Children’s Early Years program over the next three years.

Originally expansion plan funding was provided 100% by the government, but now the municipality is required to pay 20% of those costs.

“This change in policy disproportionately affects the county because much of the expansion plan funding was spent on our directly-operated centres, including Wellington Place … and the expansion of the Palmerston centre,” said county treasurer Ken DeHart.

This means the municipalities will be responsible for an unexpected $585,000, with the county portion equalling $372,000.

The anticipated net cost of the Wellington Place Child Care Centre for 2020 is $192,000. However, before the new funding reductions, the county wasn’t expected to pay any fees for the centre.

In the future there will also be changes to the formula for the administration cost sharing wage enhancement program and the amount of money available for administration from the funding pot will decrease from 10% to 5%, DeHart explained.

The provincial government also announced changes to the OMPF program. Wellington County’s OMPF allotment for 2020 is $1,281,900, down $226,200 from 2019.

The province has not announced what will happen to this program beyond 2020, DeHart said.

Wellington Terrace

The 2020 budget includes an increase of 7.6 full time staff for the Wellington Terrace – 6.4 in nursing and 1.2 in nutritional services.

“This is to deal with increasing acuity of residents at that location as well as we’re planning for a staffing coordinator, which is to provide administrative support for managers and oversee the Terrace scheduler and software,” DeHart said. “This does have some offsetting savings disposition.”

The net cost of these new positions is $445,000 in 2020. However, at the same time the province has decreased funding by $55,000 due to a decrease in the overall amount of provincial funding available.

Rural green property signs

The 2020 budget includes money to replace all 13,500 rural green property signs in the county. The new sign will also include the street name.

The cost is $300,000 and is funded by the tax levy.

Councillor and Puslinch Mayor James Seeley suggested cutting this project if council wanted to try to lower the tax increase.

“At the planning committee we talked about the cost, we talked about the fact of having it done and we also recognized that we have more and more urbanites that are moving out here that don’t understand their address and we have signs that are well into over 10 years old that are falling apart, that are out there,” said councillor Mary Lloyd.

“If you’re a reasonably new emergency services person and you have to find a specific address, well yes, you have your GPS, that’s not all so reliable as we’ve all found out where we end up on that dead end road.

“It seems like it’s an awful big impact but when you haven’t done this since amalgamation it’s time for us to refresh a lot of these signs and get a lot of this straightened out because it is confusing for residents to find their way around at times.”

Ride Well

The Ride Well ride share service has added $165,000 to the 2020 budget.

DeHart explained the estimates were updated after the program was in operation for a few months.

“It has to do with a little bit less take up than we were expecting, at least from a consulting perspective,” he said.

Councillor Earl Campbell said if the county was a private business it would be thinking about mitigating its losses.

“I think Ken mentioned the fact that we’re going to have a report. I haven’t seen these numbers either but we’re looking at those reports and whether it was overestimated on the revenue side and where we can work on it,” Minto Mayor and county councillor George Bridge said.

“Maybe we’re offering too much service or maybe we have to figure out if we have to offer a different type of service.”

Long-term budgeting

Long term, the county is looking at tax increases ranging from 3.8 to 4.3% between 2021 and 2029 and $394.2 million in capital investment over the next 10 years.

For a full copy of the budget presentation, visit bit.ly/36tct6p.

The budget is scheduled to be discussed at committee meetings and brought back to county council on Jan. 30.