A 2023 budget battle may be brewing around the Grey County council table.
At its meeting on Jan. 12, county council received its first glimpse of the draft budget for 2023, which called for a 3.66 per cent increase to the county tax levy. County council, however, almost immediately turned around the budget and asked staff to bring cuts to reduce the proposed increase.
The request divided county council with the direction to staff to reduce the proposed increase passing in a 55-34 vote.
West Grey mayor Kevin Eccles and Owen Sound deputy mayor Scott Greig led the charge in asking for the reduction.
The draft budget from staff called for the total county tax levy to rise to $69,389,100 from $65,359,000 in 2022. The $4,030,100 increase represented a 6.02 per cent hike, however that number was offset with $1,580,100 in new revenue from assessment growth, which left an increase to the tax levy of $2,450,000.
After a brief discussion, county council voted to ask staff to bring back a real dollar increase of no more than $1,000,000.
“We’re wandering here in a direction I’m not comfortable with,” said Greig. “At some point, we have to acknowledge that we can’t continue to inflate the budgets.”
Eccles called for the increase to be limited to 0.66 per cent, but later amended that suggestion to the $1 million total dollar increase.
“It may be difficult. It might be some of the services that are nice to have,” he said. “We cannot continue to bleed the property tax dollar any more than we are now.”
Other members of council were prepared to move forward at 3.66 per cent, with detailed discussions about potential cuts and reductions coming at council’s budget meeting on Jan. 27.
“This is just the introduction. You have to start somewhere,” said The Blue Mountains Mayor Andrea Matrosovs.
Grey Highlands deputy mayor Dane Nielsen said it was not realistic to expect staff to make major cuts when inflation is running rampant.
“It’s irresponsible,” said Nielsen, who said ultimately council would make the decision on cutbacks or changes. “We’re going to have some harsh discussions. This isn’t an easy year.”
The amendment to lower the increase to $1 million passed with Warden Brian Milne and councillors Sue Carleton, Sue Paterson, Grant Pringle, Nielsen, Warren Dickert, Barbara Dobreen and Matrosovs opposed.
After the decision, CAO Kim Wingrove said staff would bring options for reductions back to the council table on Jan. 27.
“We will come back with a series of pathways,” she said.