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As budget talks get rolling, region aiming to keep tax increase under 3%

Region of Waterloo

Early in the 2018 budget process, Waterloo Region council is looking to keep tax increases below three per cent, about double the current consumer price index of inflation.

Budget talks got under way in earnest last week

Starting with the October 24 meeting, councillors are now working to narrow down on the spending priorities for 2018, as well as settle on the regional tax rate for the year, the price of water and waste water, and other services.

Regional staff are currently working out a baseline budget for the region – essentially, the basic spending in the budget for services already approved by council or in place. From there, council will have the onerous task of deciding how to build on top of that.

While it is too early to speculate how a final budget might look, Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak, who represents the township on regional council, said he expected the final tax rate increase to be around 2.9 per cent, in keeping with previous years’ efforts to set the tax rate increase under 3 per cent.

Of the items under deliberation just now, one that caught his eye was a request by regional staff for the region to purchase and staff two additional ambulances.

“I think that that’s something that sort of stood out for me, something that I’ll watch when they bring that report to council to see what sort of impact that that may have on response times out in Wellesley,” he said.

“We’re probably the worst response times in the region right now and I think that any sort of improvement on that will be welcome.”

Besides that, he said he was also hoping additional funds would be available for roadwork in the township.

“Just looking at Wellesley Township, there’s a number of roads that should get some attention,” he said, giving as examples Lobsinger Line, Nafziger Road and parts of Queen’s Bush Road in Wellesley village.

“Those roads are going to have to be re-serviced or some attention is going to have to be given to them. Hopefully we can find the money this year.”

Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz, his regional council colleague, took a more circumspect tone, pointing out that the final tax rate percentage decided by the region “overall isn’t necessarily the same percentage in each municipality, so I’m kind of reserving a little bit of judgment to see how it affects us here.”

In the preliminary budget presented to council, the tax rate hike was calculated at about 3.4 per cent. Regional Chair Ken Seiling, however, said he expected councillors would be looking to get that rate increase under three per cent.

“Well I think it depends on council,” said Seiling. “We have some public meetings scheduled to get public input, and usually public input is not to decrease services – it’s usually to increase services. But there are some things that staff will be recommending or that will carry through from last year’s budget.”

Seiling noted some of the areas of interest in the 2018 budget would be “some minor expansions, particularly in the area of social benefits, EMS, paramedics and transit.”

“We did focus mainly on public transit and paramedic services” at the October 24 meeting, elaborated chief financial officer Craig Dyer.

“They’re the two most significant service enhancements that are planned or that are proposed for 2018, so we spent a bit of time just reminding council of here’s what we did in 2017 – ‘Here were the service enhancements for both paramedic services and public transit, and here’s what’s going to come forward to you in November for your consideration for the 2018 budget,’” he explained.

With things still undecided, the public has a few options to voice their opinions to committee. Cheryl Braan, manager of budgets and performance measurement for the region, said that interested members of the public could register as delegates for the two public input meetings following the committee meetings on November 22 and December 5.

Besides that, members of the public can also submit a detailed survey online at www.engageregionofwaterloo.ca to offer their perspective. Final budget approval is set for December 13, and will take effect at the start of the new year.

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