Woolwich homeowners are looking at an 8.5 per cent increased in the township share of the property tax bill as 2023 budget deliberations get underway.
The projected increase includes a seven per cent hike to the general tax levy plus 1.5 per cent for a special infrastructure levy.
That would add $84.32 to the bill of an average home in the township, based on an assessed value of $418,000.
The draft discussed Monday night by Woolwich councillors includes an operating budget of $23 million, a nine per cent increase from the 2022 budget, and capital spending of $30,515,000, up 19.5 per cent over what was budgeted last year.
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Inflation was a big factor in this year’s budget, said director of finance Richard Petherick.
“We are still very much in a very high inflationary environment. We’ve seen cost escalations increase pretty dramatically. We saw the inflation go up well past eight per cent – I think right now currently, we’re sitting at about 6.8 per cent,” he said as the meeting got going.
Monday’s budget session was the first for most of those around the council table. Four of the six – Ward 1’s Evan Burgess and Nathan Cadeau, Ward 2’s Eric Schwindt and Ward 3’s Kayla Grant – were sworn in for the first time just weeks ago. Mayor Sandy Shantz is the lone returnee from the last term, while Ward 3 Coun. Bonnie Bryant formerly served on council.
There were plenty of questions and more than a little pushback against the proposed large tax increase.
“I’ve heard from a number of residents that have a real concern with the 8.5 per cent number,” said Bryant. “The people I’ve spoken with are very concerned, because they are finding they’re dealing with their rising mortgage rates because they’ve had to renew and they’ve had to lengthen their terms of amortization. They’re looking at rising grocery costs. They’re looking at everything as a whole, and they’re finding they’re struggling. They just feel this number’s too high.”
She suggested staff look at reducing the increase to five per cent, with director of finance Richard Petherick noting that would mean having to cut some $400,000 from the budget as currently drafted.
Councillors appeared to be looking for ways to reduce spending and, thus, the tax impact.
“I’m just echoing Coun. Bryant’s concerns. Inflation is on the minds of everyone, as well as the cost of living – 8.5 is quite high,” said Grant of the tax increase. “I would kind of push for staff to try and help us lower it as much as possible to help out our residents. It’s asking quite a lot, I feel.”
Councillors took aim at a variety of proposed expenditures, looking for cost savings in the likes of deferring capital programs and putting off requests to hire additional staff members.
Looking at plans to denture some $3.5 million, for instance, Burgess suggested delaying the rehabilitation of the Peel Street bridge in Winterbourne, a project estimated at $2.75 million.
Given that one of the proposed new positions is a supervisor for capital projects, putting off some of the work slated for 2023 might also put off that hire for a year or two, he suggested.
Director of infrastructure services Jared Puppe said dropping the position might force the township to postpone $4 or $5 million worth of projects this year.
“We’re asking because it’s a need,” he said.
Schwindt asked Puppe about setting the department’s priorities. “If you lost 10 per cent of your budget, where would you cut?”
The next budget session is planned for tonight (Thursday), when councillors will be reviewing the budgets of the recreation and fire departments.