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Highlands council starts 2023 budget work, tax hike projected at 9%

Mayor Paul McQueen said council will 'roll our sleeves up to our shoulders' for the work of reducing the proposed increase
Grey Highlands council began deliberating on the proposed 2023 budget with coun. Tom Allwood in the chair.

Grey Highlands council has begun to deliberate on the proposed 2023 budget.

Council held a special committee of the whole meeting on Dec. 14 to begin budget deliberations. At the meeting, senior staff took turns presenting each department’s proposed budget for the coming year.

Increased costs due to inflationary pressures was the theme of the day and it popped up throughout the presentations by the department heads.

“This has been a difficult year for rising costs,” treasurer Anna McCarthy told council during her budget overview presentation.

The numbers presented by McCarthy showed a proposed operating budget of $19.5 million, a $15.9 million capital budget, for a total budget of $35.5 million. Of that amount, $14.4 million would be raised through taxation.

“This is a significant increase over the previous year,” said McCarthy.

The budget, as proposed, would be a local property tax increase of just over nine per cent. That would amount to $176 on an average home assessed at $305,000.

McCarthy’s presentation outlined a number of reasons for the increase including: an increase to curbside garbage and recycling pickup costs, insurance increases, rising wages, higher benefits and Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) costs, inflationary pressures on the transportation department for fuel and other materials and capital investments/assessment management investments.

In their preliminary work, staff also identified just over $150,000 in savings to reduce the proposed increase and new assessment growth is adding a further $280,000 in revenue.

Council received the staff reports (which can be found on the agenda here) for information, but did not make any decisions or changes to the proposed budget. Council will hold budget deliberations meetings in January. The dates will be determined, as members of council indicated concerns with the dates for the meetings proposed by staff. There will also be public consultations on the budget coming up, including a second budget survey.

Coun. Tom Allwood, as finance liaison, chaired the meeting and praised staff for the work they have done in preparing council for the budget. Allwood said the overview report about the proposed budget was “excellent.”

“There is a lot of information in there that explains the budget,” said Allwood, who encouraged the public to review the information. “The finance and senior management team have done a great job presenting that information in that report. Staff has done their job, (council) have a tough job coming up.”

After the meeting, Mayor Paul McQueen said council will have a lot of work to reduce the proposed increase.

“We’ll be rolling our sleeves up to our shoulders,” said McQueen. “Staff have done a great job putting it all together. We have a challenge here. At 9.2 per cent now, we’ll have to whittle that down to an acceptable level. It needs to be a lot lower.”

The mayor said a key for council would be to look at opportunities to increase non-tax money coming into the municipality.

“We have to look at all the opportunities we have for revenue generation and that includes our fees and charges and other revenue streams,” he said.

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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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