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Woolwich eyes 3.3% tax increase this year

Woolwich is proposing a 3.3 per cent tax increase for 2018, a move that will add $27.35 a year to the township portion of the average home, based on an assessed value of $361,000.

A general increase of 1.8 per cent, chosen to reflect the inflation rate expected this year, will be joined by a 1.5 per cent special infrastructure levy. The additional levy reflects a longstanding township priority to build up funds to deal with future projects such as the replacement of roads, bridges and recreation facilities.

The target increase won approval in principle January 11 as council kicked off budget season in earnest with the first of three special meetings.

As presented, the budget proposes total spending of $16.4 million on the operating side and $12.4 million for capital expenditures. That will require $10.1 million from the tax levy, explained director of finance Richard Petherick.

The township’s take of the overall property tax bill is 24 per cent, with 57 per cent going to the region and 19 per cent to the school boards.

Some increased costs and lower provincial transfers will be offset by higher revenues this year to keep the general tax increase at an inflationary rate, Petherick noted.

The township’s funding from the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) had been cut by 15 per cent for 2018. It also took a hit when the province hiked the minimum wage to $14 an hour as of January 1. Combined with a reduced forecast for growth next year, Woolwich faces reduced revenues that would require a 3.25 per cent tax hike just to get back to square one if not for mitigating factors.

The province’s OMPF grant will drop to $625,800 this year, down from $736,200 in 2017. Meanwhile, as with every other employer in the province, Woolwich faces increased labour costs as the minimum wage jumps to $14 an hour from $11.60. That change, which largely applies to recreation staff such as lifeguards, will cost the township an extra $110,000 to $140,000 this year, said Petherick.

As well, the township has lowered its growth forecast for 2018, now expecting assessment to increase by 0.5 per cent instead of 1.5 per cent, shaving the better part of $100,000 from projected revenues.

Some offsetting revenue increases, including interest income, recreation user fees and supplemental taxes. Woolwich is also recouping more of its costs from fire calls thanks to new options that bill insurance companies for responses to motor-vehicle collisions involving non-residents and for fires where homeowner policies cover certain charges.

“We’re recovering a significant amount of our costs,” said Petherick.

Future adjustments will be necessary, as the minimum wage increases another dollar an hour in January 2019, and provincial transfers will be cut again. Petherick notes the OMPF will be cut a further 15 per cent annually until the transfer falls below $300,000.

Last week’s meeting gave approval in principle to the budgets covering the fire, finance, chief administrative officer, and council and information services departments.

In the CAO’s office, councillors balked at a request for a market survey of wages, with staff looking to hire a consultant to compare pay ranges with other municipalities.

Coun. Larry Shantz noted the public sector already sees an upward pressure on wages, deserved or not – getting a raise instead of earning a raise.

“We’ve got to stop this cycle,” he said.

“I don’t see that as a good use of money,” added Coun. Patrick Merlihan.

Chief administrative officer David Brenneman countered that it’s been 10 years since the township last looked at its pay levels vis-a-vis similar municipalities, proposing $5,000 for that report, plus another $5,000 for a pay equity study.

“We think it’s time to check in,” he said.

Asked by Coun. Murray Martin if the market study would look at private sector wages or just government pay, Brenneman quickly dismissed that idea, saying that’s not the norm in public sector studies.

The second of three special budget meetings is schedule for tonight (Thursday), with a focus on engineering and planning services.

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