Essex County council passes 2014 budget, which includes 1.88 percent tax increase

 

essex_county_seal copyBy Ron Giofu

 

Essex County council approved its 2014 budget after an over five-hour meeting Wednesday with the budget calling for a slight increase for ratepayers.

The $78.3 million budget calls for a 1.88 per cent increase to the county levy, which translates into a $16.55 increase for a home with an assessed value of $200,000.

Winter control costs have already cost ratepayers as the original budget estimate called for a 1.56 per cent tax increase or $13.70 on a $200,000 home. County council added an additional $250,000 to deal with winter control measures and could pull an additional $200,000 earmarked for “economic initiatives” to cover more winter control costs.

“Winter control costs have already exceeded what was in the budget,” said county CAO Brian Gregg.

The original draft of the budget allocated $2.25 million for winter control costs, Gregg noted, with the county already having spent $2.3 million.

Potholes resulting from the winter weather are also on the county’s radar.

“We’re going to have to address the state of the network,” stated Gregg.

Director of corporate services Rob Maisonville reminded Essex County council that it has a AA credit rating.

“That is the highest rating level given to a county level of government in the province of Ontario,” said Maisonville.

Maisonville also reiterated that Essex County will have no debt as of June 2014. A total of 1.5 per cent of the tax rate increase is due to infrastructure expansion, he added, as the county is in year eight of a 12-year infrastructure expansion funding plan.

Ontario Works will be uploading 88.6 per cent of social services costs in 2014 with that figure expected to reach 100 per cent by 2018, he noted.

Essex-Windsor EMS Chief Randy Mellow noted there is a 4.03 per cent increase to the county’s requirement in his budget and that 2013 net departmental operations were $222,820 over-budget for 2013. Mellow added that the province will be funding 48 per cent of EMS funding for 2014 and not the hoped for 50 per cent.

Mellow added that Essex-Windsor EMS responded to 50,347 serious calls in 2013.

“Essex-Windsor EMS has one of the highest call volumes per 1,000 people in the province,” said Mellow.

Under the Sun Parlour Home budget, of which Victoria St. Manor in Amherstburg is included, home administrator Lynda Monik noted the latter facility houses 14 residents and eight staff and there is a “significant” waiting list to get in. That home needs a county requirement of $169,610.

Some members of county council had their eyes on trimming the overall county budget further, including the physician recruitment office. Leamington Mayor John Paterson questioned why the county is funding the entire $220,000 when Windsor is benefitting but other county council members believe the region is taking advantage of the office. Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara said 23 doctors, including some “freshly recruited” are in a clinic in his municipality alone while his deputy mayor Cheryl Hardcastle also agreed funding the physician recruitment office was a good investment.

“I really don’t give a crap where these people live,” said Hardcastle. “It’s the right thing to do with the ratepayers’ money for the region.”

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