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Township council approves 2.47 per cent tax increase

Budget includes adding four RCMP officers, extending rec centre hours, supporting Gateway of Hope

Township homeowners will see a 2.47 per cent property tax increase in 2018.

On Feb. 5, council granted first, second and third reading to the 2018-2022 five-year financial plan in an 8-1 vote.

The increase is composed of a 1.95 per cent base rate to account for inflation, and another 0.52 per cent in additional items. These include hiring four new RCMP members, extending recreation centre hours, operating the Gateway of Hope homeless shelter and adding airport maintenance, fueling and office support.

Homeowners can expect to pay an additional $48 per year or $4 per month, compared to the annual increase of $71 last year.

Coun. Kim Richter, who cast the only opposition vote, first asked council to defer the budget until the next meeting to consider a request from the Willoughby Residents Association for several sidewalk upgrades. That failed 8-1.

Richter then made an amendment to reduce the tax increase to 1.95 per cent. There was no seconder.

“I do believe the 1.95 is reasonable,” Richter said. “But given the very large property assessment values that homeowners, especially in the rural and suburban residential areas, have been hit with this year, I don’t think 2.47 is a fair increase.”

Coun. Bob Long cautioned that they will be playing “a bit of a fool’s game” if they don’t put money aside now for infrastructure and protective services.

“As much as we’d love to keep the tax increase as low as possible, I think we’re going to pay sooner or later,” he said.

Hiring the additional RCMP officers is an “absolutely critical” part for Coun. Charlie Fox.

“I think if we don’t do this, we’re going to find ourselves in a bigger hole in years to come,” Fox said. “We’re actually going to have to fill a greater number of RCMP positions to try to meet the needs of this community. We’re growing at a tremendous rate — I think it’s probably close to 800 to 1,000 people a month — and we need to keep those communities that are growing protected.”

Coun. Blair Whitmarsh agreed, adding that the contribution to the Gateway of Hope is equally important.

“This is really our primary way that we have worked towards dealing with the issue of homelessness in our community,” he said. “And I think it’s a critical … (that we) work towards helping those people who are most vulnerable in our community.”

Coun. Angie Quaale shared similar sentiments.

“A 0.52 per cent increase is $1 a month,” she said.

“If somebody told me I could get four RCMP, fund the Gateway of Hope and take some responsibility for the homelessness situation, help improve our airport, which is a massive economic driver in this community, as well as improve our stormwater, our parks, our transportation — for $1 a month — I would be happy to write that cheque every single week, never mind every month.”

Richter, however, noted that a significant part of the 1.95 per cent base budget is already going towards protective services.

“Now all these add-ons that have come in, including the RCMP officers, is going to add another $167,000, but those officers aren’t going to start until Oct. 1,” she said. “And if the RCMP adding officers continues as it has in the past, often they get approved for these positions, (but) they can’t get the people to fill the positions. The positions stay vacant anyways, and those moneys end up rolling over into surplus. So if we want something to be done, it should be included in the base increase, not as an add on.”

Richter said she agrees with funding additional recreation hours and the Gateway of Hope, but said the airport should be self-sufficient.

“My argument is, was and will be (that) we should make sure that development pays for itself. That when we start a budget, what council is first given — which was the 1.95 — is what we stick with. And we haven’t done it in this case.”

Mayor Jack Froese said the 1.95 is what’s needed to “keep the lights on.”

“We need to put money aside, as we are in our contingency funds, to save for the future so we don’t have to have five, six and 10 per cent tax increases that I see in some of our neighbouring municipalities,” he said.

“We’re being very prudent with our money by putting a little bit aside each year, and that’s what the 0.52 does.”

Council also approved changes to some user-pay utilities as well. There will be rate increases of 1.25 per cent for water (an extra $6.26 per year), 2.85 per cent for sanitary sewer (an extra $12.06 per year) and no change for solid waste, which includes garbage and organics collection.

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