By Ron Giofu
The county portion of a residential tax rate looks to be on the rise to the tune of 1.88 per cent.
Essex County council’s meeting last Wednesday saw them deliberate the 2016 budget with the projected increase to amount to $17.02 on a home valued at $200,000. That means the county portion of the tax bill will total $924.47 on a $200,000 home, as opposed to $907.45 in 2015.
Director of corporate services/treasurer Rob Maisonville noted the 1.88 per cent increase is primarily due to the county’s ongoing infrastructure expansion fund, which is in year ten of 12, and the new funding that is being set aside for the new Windsor-Essex hospital systems. The proposed tax rate sees a 1.46 per cent earmarked for infrastructure expansion and a 0.91 per cent increase for the new hospital. The county’s 2016 base operations is actually being proposed at -0.49 per cent.
Maisonville noted that he would like to see at least $450,000 devoted to the new mega-hospital fund going forward. The county has already transferred $1.4 million towards that this year including $760,000 through the levy.
The county is increasing its commitment to the County-Wide Active Transportation System (CWATS) by $100,000 this year. The county also faces a challenge of having five of its six collective agreements outstanding with most coming due in March, said Maisonville. The county has seen a 30 per cent increase related to benefits this year, he added.
Essex County is below average when it comes to tax rates for its commercial, residential, multi-residential and industrial sectors, as compared to other counties in southwestern Ontario.
Maisonville also pointed out the county’s AA credit rating from Standard & Poor’s, no levy supported debt, healthy liquidity, solid reserve strategy, a “long standing” life-cycle capital program and its pay-as-you-go infrastructure method.
Essex-Windsor EMS chief Bruce Krauter noted his department still faces challenges in relation to the region not having enough acute and long-term beds. Off-load delays at hospitals remains an issue, though he noted they decreased from 2014 to 2015 thanks to both EMS and hospital strategies.
The county is also proposing a staffing enhancement of four primary care paramedics to commence a vulnerable patient navigator program, according to Krauter’s report. He also pointed out the Dougall Ave. station in Windsor is due for replacement in late 2016 or early 2017.
The county’s transportation services department was $335,800 under budget for 2015 with 2016 highlights including a total expenditure level of $26.8 million. The latter sees just over $10 million proposed for the 2016 rehabilitation program, a program which includes 36 projects overall.
Essex County’s 2016 budget includes almost $146 million in gross expenditures with the total county requirement being $85.2 million.
The budget is up for formal approval at county council’s Feb. 17 meeting.