Essex County administration targeting two percent tax increase for 2014

 

essex_county_seal copyBy Ron Giofu

 

Essex County council received an update on the 2014 budget process with administration stating a two percent tax rate increase is the target.

Rob Maisonville, the county’s director of corporate services and treasurer, told county council at last Wednesday night’s meeting that administration is trying for a 2014 base increase of 0.5 percent and combined with the county’s 1.5 percent increase for infrastructure expansion, that would bring it to the two percent target.

“We’re not there yet,” Maisonville told county council. “We are working towards that end.”

Maisonville outlined challenges the county faces this year including the negotiation of two collective agreements, job reviews, the completion of the county’s Official Plan, energy conservation initiatives, asset management and insurance costs.

There are also concerns over how much of an increase will be asked of Essex County council to fund the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit and how much provincial funding is coming to help fund Essex-Windsor EMS and the Sun Parlour Home in Leamington.

Implementation of the County-Wide Active Transportation Study (CWATS), the ongoing renovations at the Essex Civic Centre and the eighth year of the 12-year infrastructure expansion project are also considerations. Winter control is also a factor, with Maisonville stating costs “ebb and flow” depending on the season.

Forty-one percent of the county’s gross expenditures are attributed to wages and benefits, Maisonville noted.

The county budget is expected to be deliberated by council members Feb. 5 and is scheduled for adoption Feb. 19. Maisonville told county council the tax rates are well below the rate of inflation.

The county’s debt is expected to be zero as of June 2014.

It was also learned that Essex County council has seen its credit rating improved from AA- to AA, one of the highest credit ratings afforded to a county level of government.

“Council should be very proud of the financial strength of the corporation,” said Maisonville.

Warden Tom Bain also offered congratulations to administration for its work in ensuring the county’s financial position is solid and stable.

Essex County council also approved their insurance purchase through June 30, 2014 with insurance coverage to be put out for a Request for Proposal (RFP) after that point.

“Unfortunately, due to limited staff resources and various other commitments, administration was unable to develop an appropriate RFP for the 2014 Insurance Program renewal, as intended. Accordingly, based on the premium quoted and level of retention required, administration is recommending that the renewal for the insurance program be acquired for a six-month term and that a formal RFP be developed to assess the market for future coverage,” Maisonville wrote in a report to county council.

“The 2014 renewal premium represents an annualized year-over-year          increase of $141,428, or an 18.8 percent increase,” Maisonville’s report added.

Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara noted the 18.8 percent increase and stated that municipalities often bear the burden of financial compensation in lawsuit settlements, as other parties named often don’t have the funds to pay the damages. McNamara believed “too much emphasis is put on us from liability issues and that is not right.”

Maisonville noted that Amherstburg had “great success” in the RFP process when searching for an insurance provider with Amherstburg Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland pointing out the town saved $508,136 by switching.

Amherstburg town council approved BFL Canada as the insurance provider at the Nov. 18 town council meeting. Their tender bid both pleased and “shocked” Amherstburg council members and administration.

“We saved over a half-million,” Sutherland told his Essex County council colleagues. “We were very fortunate to get the insurance rates we have for this year so an RFP is very important.”

 

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