By Mike Anderson
Christmas came early for local taxpayers when Georgina Town Council approved the 2022 budget on December 1, with a zero per cent operating tax increase.
But it’s not all good news.
Council also approved the option of adding a one per cent infrastructure levy to property tax bills next year.
That translates into a $21 property tax hike for a non-waterfront home with an assessed value of $402,995.
The levy will be used to build up the Town’s capital reserves, needed to bridge a sizeable infrastructure funding gap, estimated to be in the tens of millions.
The Town’s roads program faces the most significant funding shortfall.
While the road repair backlog is estimated at $25 million, the Town is only budgeting $2.3 million for road repairs in 2022.
“Right now, our annual tax levy investment going to roads is $2 million. However, we really need to build that $2 million up to $7 million,” Rob Wheater, the Town’s Treasurer, told council on November 30.
He also identified a backlog of building and facility repairs and replacements totalling more than $20 million.
According to Wheater, achieving a zero percent increase in the operating budget was no easy task.
“Zero per cent is very hard to achieve. And it’s usually not sustainable,” Wheater said.
“When we look at the operating budget for 2022, we really are facing pressures of 1.5 to 2 per cent. And we were able to bring it down to zero from that 1.5 per cent pressure by permanently making reductions in the operating budget.”
The most significant reduction came from funding the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) tree removal program from the tax rate stabilization reserve instead of through the tax levy – cutting $3 million from the operating budget over the next three years.
According to Wheater, this was made possible because of an “above average” surplus in 2021, transferred to the tax rate stabilization reserve.
The surplus was mainly due to federal and provincial COVID-19 grants and savings generated from reduced recreational service levels during the pandemic.
Higher water and wastewater rates and user fees:
While the 2022 budget gives residents a much-needed tax break, they will pay more for municipal water and wastewater servicing and face higher user fees next year.
Water and wastewater rates are slated to go up 5.84 per cent in 2022, or $14 for the average quarterly billing.
Tax and water certificates will cost 25 per cent more, while the fee for a final meter reading goes up more than 15 per cent.
Fees for recycling bins have also increased. Blue bins will now cost $12, up from $7, Green bins $25, up from $20.
According to Wheater, even with the increases, the Town remains within the “mid to low range” for user fees in York Region.
Town staffing increases:
The 2022 budget also adds nine new permanent positions, bringing the Town’s permanent full-time staff to 268, up from 248 in 2018.
Total budgeted salaries and benefits are now $37.3 million, representing 48 percent of the Town’s operating budget.
Other notable items in the budget include $1 million for the Pefferlaw Dam, anticipating that the Town will assume ownership from LSRCA in 2022.
Council also allocated $1 million to fund recreational amenities in Pefferlaw. These funds will be added to the $400,000 previously set aside by council.
The $2 million was initially reserved for the Multi-Use Recreation Centre (MURC) but was released because the MURC can now be funded 100 per cent from development changes.
Waterfront park improvements:
Although numerous residents – 18 per cent of respondents to the Town’s budget survey – requested improvements to waterfront parks, it appears little will be accomplished until the Waterfront Parks Master Plan is completed.
Council did not approve mobile washrooms for Holmes Point Park, deferring the capital project until the Waterfront Parks Master Plan, Part 2 & 3, is completed.
While $50,000 was approved to replace picnic tables, there are no other plans to address ageing and, in some cases, substandard amenities in the Town’s waterfront parks next year.
However, $2 million was transferred from MURC reserves to a reserve fund established for the Waterfront Parks Master Plan, which currently holds only $100,000.
Ward 4 sidewalk repairs:
Residents had also asked that sidewalks be repaired in Ward 4, specifically in Jackson’s Point and along Sutton’s High St.
But that issue was also not addressed, with only $75,000 allocated for minor sidewalk repairs for all wards.
While Ward 4 Councillor Frank Sebo submitted a budget request for $660,000 to replace sidewalks on High St., his request was not supported by council, as the region is slated to resurface High St., possibly in 2023 or 2024.
Still, Sebo’s $50,000 request for resurfacing the Malone Wharf parking lot was approved, as well as a request for new flower planters and additional weed removal along High St.
Additional councillor budget requests:
Mayor Margaret Quirk’s request for a windrow snow clearing pilot program – removing the snow left at the end of the driveway after a plow clears the road – for seniors and persons with disabilities was approved, as well as a $60,000 EV charging station for Pefferlaw and changes to the garbage bag tag program, which would allow residents to place two free garbage bags at the curb.
Mayor Quirk’s request for a boom on the Maskinonge River was also approved, with ongoing operating costs estimated at $10,000 per year, funded through the tax rate stabilization reserve.
Ward 3 Councillor Dave Neeson’s $100,000 request for a leash-free dog park at the ROC was approved, along with $50,000 for a study to determine options for stormwater and drainage improvements along Alice Ave.
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