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Woolwich eyes 1.5% tax hike as budget talks get underway

Woolwich residents are looking at a 1.5 per cent increase in the township portion of their property taxes as council begins deliberating the 2021 budget. That would translate into another $13.61 this year, based on an average home assessed at $409,400.

Under the current draft, the township is not looking to apply increases to its special levies for infrastructure and greening initiatives, said director of finance Richard Petherick during a special budget session January 5.

In total, Woolwich is looking at operating expenses of $19,083,201, up 1.7 per cent from $18,766,391 in the 2020 budget. The township is also expecting assessment growth – increased tax base due to new construction – to add the equivalent of a 2.6 per cent tax hike.

Along with additional expenses and reduced revenues, particularly in recreation, due to the pandemic, the township is facing some “significant pressures” in the 2021 budget, said Petherick. Among them are another reduction in provincial transfers under the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF), with the township receiving $67,800 less than it did last year, $384,400 instead of $452,200. That allocation has been falling by 15 per cent annually since 2017, a 48 per cent decrease – $352,000 – in the past four years.

The township also expects to receive $75,000 less in dividends from its ownership stake in Waterloo North Hydro.

Given the large deficits now being borne by the federal and provincial budgets, the township should also expect to see less money from those sources, and to perhaps brace itself for eventual downloading of costs, suggested Coun. Murray Martin.

“We have to build our budget without anticipating any monies from the [upper] levels of government, because I’ve been here for a number of years, and every year we’re getting less and less,” he said.

“We can’t build a budget expecting to get so much money, because it’s not going to happen.”

On the capital side, the plan is to spend $21.5 million on capital projects, led by almost $16 million in the likes of road and bridge works, which director of infrastructure services Jared Puppe called perhaps the largest such undertaking. Included on that list is almost $5 million to reconstruct Bauman and College streets in Elmira, along with $3.2 million in bridge repairs and $2.3 million for paving.

His department will also prioritize the maintenance of gravel roads, moving to a seven-year resurfacing program from the current 11-year schedule. It will also begin converting some of those roads from gravel to tar-and-chip (surface treatment), allocating almost $200,000 for such projects. That work will begin in the south end of the township on such routes as Fife, Lerch and Townline roads, locations farthest away from maintenance yards, a move Puppe said would reduce maintenance costs while improving the roads for drivers.

“While there’s an upfront cost to this enhancement … overall it is going to reduce maintenance costs. Gravel roads are incredibly labour intensive – we need to touch those roads multiple times a year”

Overall, “it’s aggressive, but doable” he said of the scope of the work planned for this year.

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