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In early budget talks, Woolwich eyes 4.85% tax hike

Decisions on a final 2022 Woolwich budget is still months away, but at this point residents are looking at an increase of almost five per cent.

Meeting Tuesday night, councillors approved a framework for future budget talks that includes a hike of 4.85 per cent on the township portion of their property taxes: a 2.5 per cent base increase, a 1.5 per cent special levy for infrastructure spending and 0.85 per cent for greening initiatives.

The township is also expecting significant new taxes due to new development, adding another three or four per cent to the coffers.

The proposal floated by staff got mixed reviews, however.

“You’re looking at 4.85 per cent increase coming out of the gate. That’s just a high number, and I think you’re going to have a hard time pushing it through,” said Coun. Murray Martin.

“That strikes me as pretty harsh,” agreed Coun. Larry Shantz of an increase “just shy” of five per cent.

“I think we have to be a little bit easier on the public,” he added, citing the tough economic climate.

But others such as Mayor Sandy Shantz argued a growing community demands more spending, adding that the township is no longer a small municipality.

In a preliminary report to council, director of finance Richard Petherick said the baseline increase was in line with forecasts for inflation in 2022, with staff proposing a budget that maintains current service levels. There was no discussion of cuts, though some councillors pointed to decisions coming about failing infrastructure versus increasing operating expenses.

Coun.  Shantz also returned  to needs versus wants.

“I look at needs being infrastructure and things that are falling apart that have to be repaired – those are needs. And wants are like our recreation stuff that people want to have, but can we afford it?”

The township has been collecting a special infrastructure levy – typically in the 1.5 per cent range, which will raise $1.15 million in 2021 – for years now, but is still well behind in the race to cover the costs of failing roads, bridges and the like. Petherick noted existing funding still isn’t enough.

Coun. Patrick Merlihan, noting that Woolwich expects significant growth over the next 15 or 20 years, suggested most of the new assessment revenues should be earmarked for infrastructure projects rather than simply being rolled into the operating budget, as has often been the case. The latter actually amounts to a tax increase paid by everyone, he argued, as the base budget has increased across the board year over year.

The township has a number of pressing infrastructures, some of them unfunded, he added, pointing to the Peel Street bridge in Winterbourne.

“It costs money to do those kinds of projects, as we’ve already committed to them,” said Merlihan, pressing for more focus on infrastructure funding.

Likewise, the township needs to do more green infrastructure, using what little money that new special levy provides – $56,000 this year – he said, drawing support from fellow Ward 1 Coun. Scott McMillan.

Council is expected to make a decision on the framework for the 2022 budget at the September 21 meeting.

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