As bud­get talks get rolling, re­gion aim­ing to keep tax in­crease un­der 3%

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE - FAISAL ALI

EARLY IN THE 2018 bud­get process, Water­loo Re­gion coun­cil is look­ing to keep tax in­creases be­low three per cent, about dou­ble the cur­rent con­sumer price in­dex of in­fla­tion.

Bud­get talks got un­der way in earnest last week

Start­ing with the Oc­to­ber 24 meet­ing, coun­cil­lors are now work­ing to nar­row down on the spend­ing pri­or­i­ties for 2018, as well as set­tle on the re­gional tax rate for the year, the price of water and waste water, and other ser­vices.

Re­gional staff are cur­rently work­ing out a base­line bud­get for the re­gion – es­sen­tially, the ba­sic spend­ing in the bud­get for ser­vices al­ready ap­proved by coun­cil or in place. From there, coun­cil will have the oner­ous task of de­cid­ing how to build on top of that.

While it is too early to spec­u­late how a fi­nal bud­get might look, Welles­ley Mayor Joe Nowak, who rep­re­sents the town­ship on re­gional coun­cil, said he ex­pected the fi­nal tax rate in­crease to be around 2.9 per cent, in keep­ing with pre­vi­ous years’ ef­forts to set the tax rate in­crease un­der 3 per cent.

Of the items un­der de­lib­er­a­tion just now, one that caught his eye was a

re­quest by re­gional staff for the re­gion to pur­chase and staff two ad­di­tional am­bu­lances.

“I think that that’s some­thing that sort of stood out for me, some­thing that I’ll watch when they bring that re­port to coun­cil to see what sort of im­pact that that may have on re­sponse times out in Welles­ley,” he said.

“We’re prob­a­bly the worst re­sponse times in the re­gion right now and I think that any sort of im­prove­ment on that will be wel­come.”

Be­sides that, he said he was also hop­ing ad­di­tional funds would be avail­able for road­work in the town­ship.

“Just look­ing at Welles­ley Town­ship, there’s a num­ber of roads that should get some at­ten­tion,” he said, giv­ing as ex­am­ples Lob­singer Line, Nafziger Road and parts of Queen’s Bush Road in Welles­ley vil­lage.

“Those roads are go­ing to have to be re-ser­viced or some at­ten­tion is go­ing to have to be given to them. Hope­fully we can find the money this year.”

Wool­wich Mayor Sandy Shantz, his re­gional coun­cil col­league, took a more cir­cum­spect tone, point­ing out that the fi­nal tax rate per­cent­age de­cided by the re­gion “over­all isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the same per­cent­age in each mu­nic­i­pal­ity, so I’m kind of re­serv­ing a lit­tle bit of judg­ment to see how it af­fects us here.”

In the pre­lim­i­nary bud­get pre­sented to coun­cil, the tax rate hike was cal­cu­lated at about 3.4 per cent. Re­gional Chair Ken Seil­ing, how­ever, said he ex­pected coun­cil­lors would be look­ing to get that rate in­crease un­der three per cent.

“Well I think it de­pends on coun­cil,” said Seil­ing. “We have some pub­lic meet­ings sched­uled to get pub­lic in­put, and usu­ally pub­lic in­put is not to de­crease ser­vices – it’s usu­ally to in­crease ser­vices. But there are some things that staff will be rec­om­mend­ing or that will carry through from last year’s bud­get.”

Seil­ing noted some of the ar­eas of in­ter­est in the 2018 bud­get would be “some mi­nor ex­pan­sions, par­tic­u­larly in the area of so­cial ben­e­fits, EMS, paramedics and tran­sit.”

“We did fo­cus mainly on pub­lic tran­sit and para­medic ser­vices” at the Oc­to­ber 24 meet­ing, elab­o­rated chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer Craig Dyer.

“They’re the two most sig­nif­i­cant ser­vice en­hance­ments that are planned or that are pro­posed for 2018, so we spent a bit of time just re­mind­ing coun­cil of here’s what we did in 2017 – ‘Here were the ser­vice en­hance­ments for both para­medic ser­vices and pub­lic tran­sit, and here’s what’s go­ing to come for­ward to you in Novem­ber for your con­sid­er­a­tion for the 2018 bud­get,’” he ex­plained.

With things still un­de­cided, the pub­lic has a few op­tions to voice their opin­ions to com­mit­tee. Ch­eryl Braan, man­ager of bud­gets and per­for­mance mea­sure­ment for the re­gion, said that in­ter­ested mem­bers of the pub­lic could reg­is­ter as del­e­gates for the two pub­lic in­put meet­ings fol­low­ing the com­mit­tee meet­ings on Novem­ber 22 and De­cem­ber 5.

Be­sides that, mem­bers of the pub­lic can also sub­mit a de­tailed sur­vey on­line at www.en­gagere­gionofwa­ter­loo.ca to of­fer their per­spec­tive. Fi­nal bud­get ap­proval is set for De­cem­ber 13, and will take ef­fect at the start of the new year.

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