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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

County of Essex Council approves 1.56 percent tax increase

by Sylene Argent

At its budget deliberation meeting last Wednesday evening, Essex County Council approved a 1.56 tax increase, which is below the rate of inflation. This translates into an additional $7.61 for a property assessed at $100,000.

At present, the average home in the County of Essex is valued at $237,000.

“It has been said that the true measure of a municipality’s priorities and vision can be found in its budget. It is clear from this recommended budget before you today that the County of Essex values its residents and services, as well as its infrastructure on which they rely, while also understanding the importance of affordability, sound financial stewardship, and planning for the future,” Mike Galloway, Chief Administrative Officer for the County of Essex, said.

“This recommended budget ensures the continued delivery of vital services and programs, despite historic inflationary pressures and a global pandemic that continues to impact every facet of our operation. It recognizes the risk from COVID-19 is far from over and invests in much-needed positions, like staff from Sun Parlour Long Term Care Home, Paramedics for Essex-Windsor EMS,” Galloway said, adding it will also fund the County’s vast road network and the ever-expanding active transportation system. It also earmarks funds for the future region hospital and starts to address the affordable housing crisis.

Sandra Zwiers, Director of Financial Services/Treasurer, explained the 2022 Budget is based on three fundamental principles: ensure appropriate levels of services are being delivered, the Corporation is prepared to maintain its external commitment, and consideration has been given to the impact of decisions on the Corporation’s future financial stability.

“We are here to balance not only the needs of today, but also to be mindful of maintaining our sustainability going forward,” Zwiers said, adding inflation is a real concern.

When summarizing the 2020 Budget, Zwiers noted the County of Essex is working with an Operating Budget of around $78 million and a Capital Budget of around $38 million. Combined, this is around $116.4 million. The 2021 Budget was around $112.5 million.

For every dollar the County takes in, it spends $0.10 on long-term care, $0.05 on the library service, $0.06 on corporate and community services, $0.11 on emergency medical, $0.30 on external commitments, and $0.38 on infrastructure services.

External commitments, Zwiers explained, is what is driving the tax increase for 2022, including over $3.1 million for the Health Unit, $48,000 to support the operational costs of additional housing units in Leamington at The Bridge through the County’s 20-year funding commitment for this service, which provides housing with support services to youth at risk of experiencing homelessness. It also includes $2.6 million for future renovations of the social housing stock in Windsor and Essex County and $200,000 for consultant support to walk the County through the housing agreement with the City of Windsor. It adds another $6.36 million to the County’s reserve for a new state-of-the-art hospital, bringing the total to $31 million.

  Zwiers said the County suspects COVID-19 will continue to impact the budget as it relates to Essex-Windsor EMS and Sun Parlour Home, to different degrees over the next year. She said the budget proposed at Sun Parlour Home is focused on increasing direct care to four-hours per day by 2025 to meet provincial legislation and to increase the number of staff hours dedicated to safety and infection control.

Jayne Brooks Keller, Administrator for Sun Parlour Home, explained current care per resident per day is three-hours on average. Sun Parlour reaches this target. In 2022, the staff levels will increase to three-hours and 15-minutes per resident per day, which she said Sun Parlour also reaches.

“It is our plan to grow the number of hours in nursing, working towards the next target in 2023, which is three-hours and 42 minutes,” she said, noting that is a pretty big jump.  

In addition, staff additions for EMS will address growth in modified alignment with the Master Plan with 12 additional paramedics, information from the County of Essex notes.

Chief Bruce Krauter noted the Essex-Windsor EMS Budget priorities includes continuing service levels, maintaining mandatory programs and legislative requirements, addressing future capital needs, anticipating call volume changes and demographic growth, keeping up-to-date with technology, investing in paramedic and patient safety, continuing collaborative and innovative partnerships, and addressing current and future system pressures.

When speaking of Infrastructure Services, Zwiers said an additional $100,000 would be allocated to the County Wide Active Transportation System, to bring that contribution up to $2.1 million annually.

She anticipates a clearer picture of the infrastructure assets by completion of the asset management legislative requirement, which will come to County Council in July of 2022.

Zwiers said staff recommended additional staff be hired, including legal support for the County Solicitor and a records management specialist. In addition, the 2022 Budget includes funding to hire a Climate Change Coordinator for two-years to support the Essex County Regional Energy Plan.

In looking at roads, the County’s $45.5 million road construction program for 2022 includes $26.8 million for capacity expansion, information from the County of Essex notes, adding another $11.7 million will be spent on rehabilitating 46km of county roads, including major repairs to two bridges and the replacement of two large culverts.

In speaking of library services, Zwiers said a return to pre-pandemic service levels is anticipated. There will also be a focus on technology and Open+ service expansion.

  Administration originally proposed a 1.73 percent increase. County Council, however, voted to leave the $200,000 from the 2022 Budget that was earmarked for SWIFT as the County is expecting funding from the province, but instead increased the draw from the Rate Stabilization Reserve for that amount to make the item tax-levy neutral. This will leave the funds there, if needed.

  When speaking of fiscal responsibility, Zwiers said the County of Essex recently earned an AA+ credit rating review, which is the highest rating given to an upper-tier government in the province. Council received this report for informational purposes.

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