top of page
  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex County Council Notes for Wednesday, February 1

by Sylene Argent

Warden recognizes the start of

Black History Month

On the first day of February, Essex County Warden, Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald, recognized the start of Black History Month.

“Our region has a long, rich Black History that goes back to the 18th century, when free black Loyalists and enslaved Africans arrived here,” MacDonald said. “They were followed by African-Americans escaping slavery and free people of colour, who made this region a critical link in the Underground Railroad.

“Pursuing freedom, opportunity, and dreams of a better future, thousands have settled in Essex County and Windsor over the past 200-years. “They pushed back against discrimination and segregation, and made important contributions to day-to-day life in our region, our province, and our country,” she added.

County receives Essex resolution requesting residents be allowed to claim drainage bills on income tax

Essex County Council received, but did not support, a resolution from the Town of Essex.

At its Regular Council Meeting on January 16, Essex Council directed its Administration to send a letter to the Provincial government, requesting residents be allowed to claim drainage bills on their income tax.

Administration sent a letter with this resolution to Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, the County of Essex, the Rural Ontario Municipal Association, and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy said it was found in Essex there are a lot of residents, particularly in the rural areas, who have hefty drainage bills. She was not speaking of the farming community as they can already claim it on their income tax.

“We are just looking to see if the Province would consider allowing individuals who have properties in rural areas to claim their Drainage Act bills on their income taxes as a way to assist those families,” Bondy said. “It is a big chunk of cash a lot of our residents get slammed with.”

Warden Hilda MacDonald questioned why this was being sent to the Province when income tax comes from the Federal Government. She also spoke on how the issue was not County jurisdiction. Over the past four-years, she said she found issues that were not County matters have been forwarded to the upper-tier level of municipal government, and that creates a lot of additional work for staff. She suggested if there are issues municipalities are looking for support on, to notify area municipalities to ask for support.

Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara understood where the resolution was coming from, but echoed MacDonald’s concerns, as it was beyond the County’s scope.

Sandra Zwiers, Director of Finance/Treasurer, said this is currently not tax deductible for non-business owners. There are some taxing jurisdictions that allow this as a deduction. She cautioned that going down this route could open a Pandora’s box. Currently home sales for a personal residence are not taxable in Canada or Ontario. Conversely, expenses associated are not tax deductible, either.

Opening up one, could open up the other, she said.

Tax ratios adopted

Essex County Council adopted the tax ratios as set out in By-law 2023-04 for the 2023 taxation year.

It also approved the reductions for sub-classes for excess commercial, excess industrial, vacant industrial land be set at 30%, 35% and 35% respectively; and that the Essex County Tax Assistance Program for Low-Income Seniors and Low-Income Persons with Disabilities continue with no amendments.

The Essex County Charity Tax Rebate Program was referred back to the regional group, which is comprised of municipal finance reps for additional review.

As a two-tier government, the County of Essex has to annually pass tax policy that will not only impact the County’s taxation process, but those of the seven local municipalities, as well, Sandra Zwiers, Director of Finance/Treasurer, explained.

The County meets with finance reps from the seven local municipalities to make these annual decisions. The recommendations presented in the report, she added, were unanimously supported from those reps from the local municipalities.

She explained taxation for properties across the province remain valued at the 2016 value date. When the Province announces the reassessment cycle, Zwiers said she will report that information back to County Council.

It was another healthy year of growth across Essex County, she said.

“We experienced a 2.46 percent increase in raw assessment,” Zwiers said, adding 3/4s of the County’s assessment is residential or multi-residential.

In speaking to the reductions for sub-classes for excess commercial, excess industrial, and vacant industrial land, Zwiers said the tax bill is reduced, essentially on the basis it is not drawing on the municipal services, the way an occupied space would.

She spoke on a comment from the public, which questioned the incentives and their removal to incentivise vacant landowners to develop their properties.

That has been a topic of conversation at the regional group for a number of years. There are varying opinions across the seven municipalities on the matter.

The regional group, she added, is committed to keeping this on its radar. As the new reassessment amounts come in, they will ensure this matter is looked at again and brought back to County Council with an updated recommendation.

In speaking to the County’s Tax Assistance for Low-Income Seniors and Low-Income Persons with Disabilities program, Zwiers said there has been an uptick in use. The recommendation was made to keep this as is, because of looming recession talk and inflationary issues.

Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy said she would love to see the County get rid of tax rebates for any vacant properties, and would prefer to provide incentives to those who are actually going to do something with their property.

County of Essex’s Asset Management Plan notes not enough spent to maintain current assets

Essex County Council approved the County of Essex Asset Management Plan 2022.

The Report to County Council notes An Asset Management Plan is a systematic process that provides for the operation, maintenance, upgrade and ultimately disposal and/or replacement of physical infrastructure/assets.

Director of Finance/Treasurer, Sandra Zwiers, said this report was completed in-house, which saved dollars in not having to hire a consultant. It also helped staff better understand and learn from the County’s data and get a greater depth of understanding on the matter.

Heidi McLeod, Manager of Accounting for Administration/Deputy Treasurer, explained in 2009 municipalities began recording capital assets, through requirements brought forward by the Public Sector Accounting Board.

“The focus was on realizing the long-term nature of capital assets and the value they bring beyond just one accounting cycle,” McLeod said, adding the County’s first Asset Management Plan was created in 2013, and focused on core assets – like roads, bridges, and culverts. Four-years later, the County adopted a document that included all corporate assets.

The process is meant to encourage incorporating the information into operational and capital planning.

In 2019, a Strategic Asset Management Policy was established to further integrate sound asset management practices into the County’s operational, long-term planning, and budget decisions, the Report to County Council continues. It needs to be updated every five-years.

By July 1 of last year, the Province required a municipal asset management plan for core municipal infrastructure assets, she explained.

The next deadline will be July 1, 2024, where the County’s Asset Management Plan will be updated again and include all municipal assets. The following year, the Asset Management Plan will build on the requirements set out on the previous version of the document and address the proposed level of services, activities, and the funding required to meet that.

McLeod explained the County’s infrastructure portfolio has a total historical cost of well-over $300M. The scope of this report only includes core infrastructure assets, like, roads, bridges, culverts, and watermains, representing 60 percent of the County’s asset portfolio.

Overall, she said, 69 percent of the County’s assets are in good to very good condition. Six percent are in poor to very poor condition.

“We should be proud of the fact the majority of our assets are in good to very good condition,” McLeod said, adding the County’s asset health has improved from a “C-plus” rating, to an “A” rating.

Assets assessed in poor to very poor condition are slated to be rehabilitated or replaced within the next five-years.

She said the average annual requirement for all core assets is currently just over $27M. This represents the cost of the life cycle activities necessary to maintain the current condition and service-level of core assets.

Current expenditures are just over $13.4M, leaving a deficit of just under $13.7M, she said.

“Based on the life cycle activities identified for each category and its segment, and the estimated costs of those activities, we are currently only spending 49.5 percent of what we should be,” McLeod said. “The funding gap of almost $14M each year, means we are not spending enough to maintain the current levels of service, which may put our future asset health and performance at risk.”

She recommended slow, calculated steps to close that gap and show progress in achieving the goal.

The current County roads network, McLeod said, consists of 1,356 total lane kilometres of varying surfaces. Tar and chip roads represent 32 lane kilometers are scheduled to be resurfaced with asphalt within the next five-years.

She also spoke of bridges, culverts, and watermains. The condition of the County’s culvert program needs attention. Staff has been diligently replacing older infrastructure over the past few years to address this.

Zwiers explained the information in the report is based on current replacement values from 2021. That does not encompass inflation experienced in 2022. The plan gives estimates. She said it is expected the figures could change from year-to-year.

While that 14M deficit is ominous, she added that the County does contribute towards the maintenance of assets regularly.

The goal of 100 percent funding is not a goal she has. It is a risk-based approach in looking at the quality of assets, and maintaining them in good condition.

“We do hope to move the needle to reduce the deficit over time, in relation to the quality of assets,” Zwiers said.

Kingsville Deputy Mayor Kim DeYong asked if there have ever been discussions on transferring County assets to municipalities, particularly roads.

Allan Botham, Director of Infrastructure and Planning, said there have been such discussions, while he has worked for the County and previously for Leamington. He is tasked with the County road network and continuing with the Road Rationalization process.

As the County moves through the CWATS plan and collects data through updating the Official Plan, the County will connect with local municipalities and have conversations about which roads should or should not be County Roads. Any suggestions will be brought back to County Council for further discussion. That may not be in front of County Council until late in 2024.

Lakeshore Deputy Mayor Kirk Walstedt said he would not be interested in seeing a report on that. He said perhaps there are roads Lakeshore would like the County to take over or that the report could look at exchanges. Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy echoed Walstedt, noting the County does a great job on roads.

bottom of page