Waterloo Region, which scoops up more than half of your property taxes, plans to dig a little deeper this year, with council last week approving a 2.95 per cent increase.
The tax hike adds another $56 to the annual reaping of the average home in the region. The take is 2.31 for the region and another 0.64 for policing, the region’s single largest expense.
Even with the above-inflation increase, the township’s representatives on regional council found little to criticize in the 2017 budget.
Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak noted he was glad to see an increase of $135,200 in funding for regional libraries, which works out to about $3.50 per household in the township.
“There’s a couple interesting things that are happening there. On the capital side they’re going to replace all the early learning stations. The early learning station computers, they’re getting pretty old and a lot of them are not working so they’re going to replace them and that’s a $44,000 budget number. I think that’s a good thing,” Nowak said.
The region is also looking at renovating and putting an addition on the library headquarters in Phillipsburg. Money has been put aside to get an estimate and do some drawings for that.
“That’s probably something that’s long overdue. We had a tour of that building last year and they really are bursting at the seams there and the washrooms are old school and retro and all that sort of stuff. I think that money is going to be well spent,” Nowak said.
The other budget line that he appreciated was the increased spending for the paramedic master plan.
“They are spending a fair bit of money to improve the response times for the ambulances region-wide and the response times in Wellesley are the worst, I’ve seen 25-28 minutes before an ambulance gets to an incident,” Nowak explained.
The master plan called for 20 new paramedics for the region, which they eventually cut down to 15. Nowak’s hopeful the additional staff will make a difference in response times for the township.
“The other thing I was very happy to see is that the roundabout at Ament and Herrgott Line is now in the capital forecast and will definitely move ahead. It really has passed all hurdles and it’s definitely going to be moving forward, so I was glad to see that. The design will be done in 2017 and barring any unforeseen issues we’re looking at 2018 [for construction],” Nowak said.
For her part, Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz said she was pleased to see the roundabout becoming a reality, despite it not being within her jurisdiction.
“While that’s not in Woolwich, it’s something I’ve actually had some people in Woolwich say ‘please support that.’ I was happy to see that,” Shantz said.
But she wasn’t on board with the region’s decision to cut back the number of infant spaces at the Elmira Children’s Centre from nine to six.
“I was disappointed to have that cut back. It’s not gone. It’s still there. Childcare is really expensive so I understand regional council’s desire to get the total budget down. I was a little disappointed in that,” Shantz said.
She says prior to budget discussions it wasn’t on her radar in terms of where the region might cut back. The hope is for 2018 to add the three spots to bring it up to nine. The centre was also expected to be open in March but has been pushed to August.
“It’s always a real challenge to balance what people would like and what they are willing to pay for it because everyone comes at it differently and everyone has different needs and wants,” she said.
She says she’s still hoping to make the massively underused Grand River Transit route in Elmira more widely accessible.
What also stuck out in the budget for her were the benefits low-income residents receive for additional healthcare costs.
“The province is not providing those funds any longer. We’re providing it and we’re trying to be fair to those folks that need those services but it’s a big part of the budget. I’m hoping that we can continue to lobby the provincial government to step up and make the benefits that are needed available rather than us having to cover it because it is a significant amount that could be used for other services,” Shantz said.