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Grey Highlands uses Talisman sale proceeds to lower tax hike

'There is a lot of stuff in this budget that will move this municipality forward,' says mayor
Members of Grey Highlands council vote to adjourn the budget meeting on March 2 thus completing the 2023 budget process.

Grey Highlands council has approved a plan to use a portion of the proceeds it received from the sale of the former Talisman lands to help offset the 2023 tax increase.

At its budget meeting on March 2, council voted 4-3 in favour of a plan from Mayor Paul McQueen to bring $130,000 from the $1.65 million sale proceeds into the budget as operating funds to lower the local tax increase from 7.1 per cent to 6.1 per cent.

McQueen and councillors Paul Allen, Dan Wickens and Tom Allwood voted in favour of the plan.

“This is all of the taxpayers’ money. This way it benefits all of the taxpayers,” said McQueen. “People out there haven’t had a seven per cent increase in their salary. It’s about choices. We’re here to make choices.”

Deputy Mayor Dane Nielsen opposed the use of the Talisman funds to lower the increase. Nielsen said he was concerned using those funds as operating revenue would put the municipality in a bigger financial hole when it comes time to set the 2024 budget. Nielsen noted the council had already decided to hold its 2023 funding for its asset management plans at 2022 levels and he said those pressures were not going away.

“I understand the challenges we’re facing. I understand the difficulty approving the budget,” said Nielsen. “We’re just going to be having the same conversations, frustrations and debates next year. I understand that 7.1 per cent might not be the nicest number to present. My concern is it sets us up for more challenges.”

Coun. Nadia Dubyk also had concerns about the plan.

“If we keep kicking this down the road at some point we’ll hit a spike,” said Dubyk. “I have reservations about dipping further into reserves at this point.”

Director of Finance Anna McCarthy said the 6.1 per cent increase to the local tax levy represents a $40 annual increase per $100,000 of assessment. This was a drop of $6 from the 7.1 per cent figure. Overall, in 2023 tax bills in Grey Highlands will rise by 3.85 per cent (the overall or blended rate includes the amounts for Grey County and the school boards) or $46 per $100,000 of assessment.

The final vote on the Talisman proceeds ended a long day of budget deliberations for council. Afterwards, McQueen complimented council and staff for their efforts.

“I want to commend my colleagues and staff for the hard work you’ve had to do to get to this point,” he said. “I know it’s not easy. I know it will be tough next year. There is a lot of stuff in this budget that will move this municipality forward.”

Allwood, who chaired the budget meetings throughout the process, also offered council and staff kudos. He said they were able to reach a consensus on the budget in difficult circumstances.

“I said during the election: the next four years are going to be tough,” said Allwood.

Municipal staff will now prepare a bylaw to formally adopt the budget for 2023. The bylaw will be before council at its next meeting on March 15.

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About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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