By: Mike Anderson
Despite several councillors professing their dislike for higher taxes, it didn’t stop them from approving Georgina’s 2020 budget on December 4, which will see resident’s property taxes increase by 3.94 per cent next year – more than double the rate of inflation.
And, that’s not the worst news.
Expect to see property tax increases for the foreseeable future, as Georgina embarks on the most significant capital spend in its history — with the MURC, a new Civic Centre, West Park, Sutton Community Park, the Link – Phase 2 & 3, and the South Keswick Fire Station all slated for construction over the next few years.
According to Mayor Margaret Quirk, the 2020 budget provides “value” to residents by finding a balance between investing in the community and minimizing the impact of tax increases in the long run.
That’s being achieved by adding a one per cent capital reserve charge to the 2.94 per cent property tax levy to reach the total of 3.94 per cent — a practice that’s intended to build up the town’s capital reserves to avoid increasing the tax levy in future years.
“I think what we can all agree on is that we want to make sure that the Town of Georgina has the right tools, the right technology, that the right buildings, processes and facilities for our residents. And, that we have the right financial plan to bring all that together,” said Mayor Quirk before voting. “I’ve said this in the past, failing to plan is planning to fail.”
However, council didn’t need much convincing with five out of six councillors approving an operating budget of more than $77 million for 2020 — requiring a total tax levy of $45.2 million and water and sewage rates of over $15 million, the balance being user fees, reserve draws and development charges.
Council also approved capital expenditures of $68 million in 2020 – for a total spend of more than $146 million.
The ten-year capital forecast is now $286 million, up more than $10 million from last year’s forecast of $275 million – much of which will be financed through long-term debt.
The 2020 property tax increase roughly translates into a $79 up-charge for a single-family detached dwelling assessed at just over $400,000.
All this runs counter to the sentiments expressed in the town’s online budget survey, which indicated that more than 65 per cent of residents wanted either a zero or modest one per cent tax increase.
The only dissenting opinion was offered by Regional Councillor Rob Grossi, who said he couldn’t in good conscience support the budget increase.
“We don’t know what the external pressures are going to be over the next couple of years,” he said. “We simply can’t afford a fourth library or a West Park. And when you’re looking at the reality of what it’s going to cost us, and the debt that we are going to have to finance — and it isn’t just the next three years, it’s the next 10 to 15 years. I’m not sure that the people of this community can continue to afford to live here.”
The vote on December 4 was preceded by two days of budget review, where the intent was to find savings. But, there were no cuts.
Instead, several councillors threatened to add to the budget with their suggestions for capital spends. There were more than a dozen additional capital projects put forward for consideration. Some with hefty price tags, including Councillor Frank Sebo’s request for a water park and slide at the ROC for “several million dollars” — which was deferred for further review.
But others, like Councillor Mike Waddington’s request for safety equipment for stormwater ponds that kids are using as impromptu skating rinks and the Mayor’s request for a wheelchair swing for the ROC were approved. They will be funded from reserves and were not added to this year’s tax levy.
Despite the propensity to spend rather than cut, there are some positives to be found in the budget.
Funding for road repair and maintenance is maintained, although Rob Flindall, director of operations and infrastructure, says the town needs to spend three times as much.
There is funding to develop a broadband strategy, which is urgently needed, with many residents and local businesses experiencing poor connectivity.
Previously neglected assets will also get some much-needed attention, including the Pioneer Village, which has several buildings in urgent need of repair.
And, finally, there is new funding for the maintenance of the town’s parks, including hiring a full-time park employee — the last full-time hire for the parks department was more than ten years ago.
However, some important things were left out of the budget.
There is no additional funding to help attract potential employers to Georgina — even though 23 per cent of budget survey respondents – the largest segment – wanted their tax dollars spent on economic development and job growth.
There are also no new initiatives to promote Georgina as a tourist destination, other than additional funding for a winter banner program for Woodbine Ave and Dalton Rd.
Residents can expect to see the 3.94 per cent tax increase reflected in their 2020 property tax bill, which will be mailed out in late January. The first installment will be due sometime in February; late payments will incur a 1% penalty per month.