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Council adopts Operating and Capital Budgets in principal

-A zero percent increase is expected as

Town received $400k in additional taxes from growth-


by Sylene Argent

Essex Council sat down with senior administrators on Monday evening to discuss the 2019 Operating and Capital Budgets. During the meeting, both budgets were adopted in principal.

  Through the Town of Essex’s budget report, it notes the total revenue for the 2020 Budget for both operating and capital is $61.5 million; 42.7M is dedicated to the Operating Budget and $18.5M is dedicated to the Capital Budget.

  According to the budget snapshot, the proposed changes to the Municipal Mill rate is zero percent, however, that does not mean a property owner will not notice an increase. MPAC’s Current Value Assessment (CVA) is used as the basis for calculating property taxes. To help provide an additional level of property tax stability and predictability, the Ontario Government introduced a phase-in program for market increases and decreases.

  The phased-in increase will provide the Town with an estimated $230,000 in additional tax revenue. This amount will be used to provide a sustainable funding source to directly offset the cost of debt associated with the Harrow Streetscape project.

  The report notes the year-over-year growth, as a result of new residential, commercial, and industrial construction experienced in Essex, is estimated to contribute an additional $400,000 to revenue from Property Taxation.

  Of the Capital Budget, 15.6% is spent on Infrastructure and Development, 13.8% to Community Services, 10.9% to Fire Services, 6.2% to Police, 4.0% to the Office of the CAO, 2.7% to Developmental Service, 2.6% to Corporate Services, 2.0% to Council, and 1% to other.

  The amount of property tax dollars that the Town of Essex receives and retains per year on a residential home assessed at $179,000 (average home value in Essex) is $1,644.  

  Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche put a motion forward that the Operating Budget be adopted in principal. Council wages, an item that has been brought up in the recent past, will be discussed in the near future.

  The 2020 Capital Budget includes $18.5M in projects.

  In 2014, Stempki Kelly Associates created the Essex Centre Streetscape & Silo District Street Plan. The budget for the Essex Centre Streetscape Plan was estimated at $3.8M, including $1.3million for lighting, $1.3million for sidewalks and crosswalks, $175,000 for furnishings, with funding for the Talbot Street Paving Project.

  Last year, Stempki Kelly Associates created a streetscape plan for Harrow Centre. The budget for the Harrow Streetscape Plan was estimated at $4.6million, which included: $800,000 for lighting and underground electrical work, $1.3 million for sidewalks and crosswalks, and funds for the Queen/King streets paving, which he would provide longevity and a fresher finish, and the Harrow sewer project.

  Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche, at the beginning of the budget meeting, was not comfortable with spending the entire amount on the Harrow Streetscape project, which was added in the budget at $4,590,170 as a long-term debt item (with additional funding from grants), but wanted both the Harrow and Essex projects reviewed in depth.

The Essex Centre Streetscape project was implemented in the four-year forecast for 2021 for Council discussion at $3,783,590.

He said had a number of residents have commented on this file in the past few weeks, with concerns of the costing associated with these projects. Meloche suggested Council host a meeting regarding the streetscapes, so members could go through the lines items and determine what needs to be done and to what degree. By the end of the meeting, however, he said he was more comfortable moving forward with the Harrow Streetscape Plan after hearing input from administration and fellow Council reps.

In a survey issued last year, 78 percent of respondents wanted to see increased level of service for roads. Meloche said there were a lot of road issues that still need to be complete.

Councillor Kim Verbeek agreed with Meloche in that residents want more money spent on roads. She also wanted to scale back on the streetscape project as to what is needed as it pertains to these projects when there are roads ready to go.

Councillor Morley Bowman said a concern every year is how to move forward on major projects. He said it is important to do a whole project off the bat and to do a good job. He said a better outcome is expected without cutting corners.

Councillor Sherry Bondy said if the downtown cores are improved, perhaps development will follow. Council needs to be confident in selling the streetscape projects to the community, she added.

Councillor Steve Bjorkman said he is firmly in favour of both streetscapes. It is the part of the Town people can see. This is a project that will last 25-years. “We have to look at the big picture and the long-term of the costs, and how many people will benefit from it,” he said.

Councillor Chris Vander Doelen said what Council needs to determine are the priorities are. He said downtown Harrow looks neglected and tired, and it will be harder to sell homes in the area without spending the money on the downtown.

Councillor Joe Garon, agreed road projects are a priority. He doesn’t see anywhere in the budget where Irwin or Victoria in Essex Centre will be addressed anytime soon. He noted the Gordon/Wilson/Station Street area project was supposed to be done last year. It was added back into this budget for asphalt milling and resurfacing, to be completed jointly with the watermain replacement, at a cost of $150,000 for the resurfacing and $850,000 for the watermain replacements.

  Garon brought up the $240,000 in the budget for a tennis court in Essex Centre. He wondered why there would be funding for that when funds can be spent on roads.

  Director of Community Services, Doug Sweet, noted $80,000 has been put away for this project per year, based on the Parks and Recreation Master Plan.

Verbeek wondered about the budget items that included putting a bathroom at the Essex Centre Splashpad, including demolition of two ends of the former clubhouse, at $219,983, and the agility equipment in the dog park for $8,840.

Sweet noted the Town adds things that make the local amenities unique to draw people in. He believes the bathroom is need because of the feedback heard from residents. It was approved in the budget last year, but had to come back as the prices ended up being higher than expected.

Bondy added that at the Harrow Centre Splash Pad, families had to use a port-a-john, which was typically in a pretty unclean state. She would like a Harrow bathroom for the splashpad in the wish list for 2021.  

Throughout budget deliberation discussions, Bowman wondered if Council should implement a two-percent increase, to collect around another $300,000. These funds could be to put into a reserve if anything came up in the year that wasn’t covered in the budget.

Essex’s Director of Corporate Services/Treasurer, Jeff Morrison, explained funds for emergency situations can come from asset management or other funding sources.

  Another concern was brought up by Bjorkman, who spoke of the OPP Contract Sergeant position, which costs the Town approximately $200,000 per year. CAO Chris Nepszy said a year’s notice needs to be given before the position is removed, if Council wished to proceed that way.

  Bjorkman wanted to move forward with the notice, as Council could always take it back if it changes its mind.

  To address the OPP Contract Sergeant position, Administration will come back with more information on the position for Council in the near future.

  Mayor Larry Snively suggested Council give the new position holder a chance before making a decision.  

  Council passed a motion to approve the Capital Budget for 2020 in principal, with swapping out the 5th Concession Road project for work to be done on the 4th Concession, which he said was not on the list for completion until 2024.  

  The 5th Concession Road project was to include reconstruction using pulverizing, base addition, regrade, and tar and chip for $450,000.

  When speaking about roads, Vander Doelen said he would like a sidewalk to be completed along Maidstone, down to the commercial buildings nearing Highway #3. Bondy added that she would like Council to undertake another roads tour.

  “Council must be proud of ourselves for passing this tonight,” Snively said, adding there was a lot of good debate throughout the meeting.

  “It is a real testament to our Administration,” Meloche added.

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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