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2021 Municipal Budget adopted with minor exceptions

- there will be no property tax increase -

by Adam Gault

Essex Council adopted the 2021 Operating and Capital Budgets at a special meeting held virtually on the evening of Monday, December 14, minus a few capital projects that will have their funding earmarked until an official decision is made at a January meeting.

  This was the second meeting Council held to discuss the 2021 Budget, and it provided Council the opportunity to further discuss individual budget items amongst themselves and members of the Town’s administration.

  As presented at the first budget meeting, which was held on November 30, the 2021 budget will have no property tax increase, and will total a combined $70.4 million, between the operating and capital.

  On the operating side of the budget, some discussion was had on the potential of waving Development Charges for a period of time to encourage the building on infill lots, which are empty lots in established areas, and how it could lead to an opportunity for more affordable housing options in the wake of an incredibly hot real estate market. This issue was discussed at the December 7 Council meeting.

  “I think that this is a way to help the little guy,” Councillor Sherry Bondy said. “This is not helping a big developer come in, this is helping making developments affordable for the average person building a home.”

  Others on Council expressed concern on the financial shortfall that would be experienced with a lack of Development Charges on these proposed infill lots, noting that the financial difference would still have to be made up at a later date.

  “The development fees have to come from somewhere, and they’re going to come from next year’s budget,” Mayor Larry Snively said. “I was in favour of infill at one time, but I’ve changed my mind. Why should the taxpayer be responsible for paying development fees? Yes, we might get it back after two-years, but we’re still tying taxpayers’ money up for two-years where that money could be put into our infrastructure.

  The decision was put to a recorded vote that ended in a split four in favour, four opposed, which had the infill motion fail. Voting in favour were Councillor Bondy, Councillor Steve Bjorkman, Councillor Kim Verbeek, and Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche, and voting opposed were Councillor Chris Vander Doelen, Councillor Morley Bowman, Councillor Joe Garon, and Mayor Snively.

  With the capital side of the budget, another issue of discussion was the $450,000 earmarked for the Arthur-Maidstone-Gosfield intersection improvements, which proposed for an interim solution for an intersection reconfiguration to address safety concerns, in addition to extending the useful life of the road.

“This intersection, we’ve identified it needs to be fixed. I’m all for slowing down the traffic through that intersection if we can,” Councillor Joe Garon said. “There’s so many new builds on the other side of Maidstone Avenue. Would the County have the appetite for, if not a three-way stop, at least a flashing crosswalk, or lights at the intersection that could stop the traffic?”

  Essex Director of Corporate Services and Treasurer, Jeffrey Morrison, noted that if Council was unsure about making a decision specifically on the Maidstone intersection that evening, the $450,000 could be adjusted in a resolution to earmark it for general road related projects. 

“We do have the 11 and 25 of January still scheduled for potential budget deliberations,” Morrison explained, noting decisions on those amounts could still be made in January.

  With that decided, Council passed the 2021 Operating Budget, and passed the Capital Budget, minus several items, including the $240,000 new tennis courts in Essex as per the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, the Maidstone Avenue intersection, and the $220,000 Old Malden Road tar and chipping project.

  Funding for these projects will be earmarked at this time, and will be decided upon at the January meetings.

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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