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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex to mull over proposed 5.64% tax increase

by Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative

Town of Essex Administration has Proposed a 2024 Budget with Capital and Operating expenditures of $70.6 million, equating to a proposed average tax increase of 5.64%, including the estimated County and education impacts, if it were to remain as presented.

  On a median house in Essex, this increase would equate to less than $10 per month for the average household for the Town’s portion of taxes, or just over $15 including County and School Board portions.

  Members of Council learned the details of the proposed 2024 Budget during its Budget Walkthrough meeting on Monday evening, which is a chance for staff to present the material. The local municipal decision-makers then have some time to mull over its contents before deliberations begin in the coming weeks, where it will decide if it will go with the proposed increase or reduce it.

  The Walkthrough Meeting was meant to provide an in-depth presentation on the details implemented into the draft document. Council members were asked to review the document and forward any questions they may have prior to the first Budget Deliberation date on December 13, where Council will be able to discuss the details and conclude the best balance of providing service to taxation level.

  This document outlines an approach intended to strengthen the Town’s financial condition, address infrastructure needs, and maintain and improve services residents access regularly, CAO Doug Sweet said.

  “Similar to past years, this has been a challenging budget to prepare” Sweet added. “The current economic landscape has brought forward new challenges. Your Administration has made significant efforts to reduce expenses and balance additional costs to continue to provide the same-level of service our residents expect.”

  Kate Giurissevich, Director of Corporate Services, noted in her welcome message that Town Administration “continues to emphasize the philosophy of stable tax increases to provide residents with more consistency for personal budget planning purposes, rather than the ‘freeze and hike’ approach which can pose challenges to ratepayers.”

  New this year, she added, was the implementation of the new Strategic Action Plan Council adopted early in the Term, which is “highlighted throughout the document and many of its key focuses are accomplished through the proposed expenditures.”

  Also new this year, residents had a chance to weigh-in on what they thought was important for the municipal budget through online engagement on the Town website. Through this tool, they were able to rank capital projects. It also allowed for the asking of questions of staff.

  “It gave residents a glimpse into the difficulty Administration has, being that you only have so much money for a lot of needs in the municipality,” Giurissevich said.

  There were 217 respondents – 65% of which were from Essex Centre. Giurissevich said the response was good.

  “The residents were loud and clear in what their main priority was, and that was to repair roads,” she relayed, followed by sidewalks and trails, storm sewers, tourism and events, and culvert and bridge maintenance.  

Administration took that information and plugged it into the proposed 2024 Budget document, which was created to be easily readable by residents and Council members.

  Each year, Town Administration needs to ensure the budget is balanced, meaning money coming in equals going money out.

  She explained the 2024 Proposed Operating Budget includes predictions of a year that is financially stabilizing after a pandemic and is experiencing reduced housing development. Growth predictions for 2024 remain moderate and estimated at 2.43%, compared to 1.40% in 2023, 2.61% in 2022, 1.61% in 2021, and 4.03% in 2019. This assessment growth reduces the tax rate by that amount.

  Each year, Giurissevich explained, the Town of Essex receives over $4M through the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF), which supports the Operating Budget. It also receives money through the Canada Community Benefit Fund and the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund, with allocations that exceed $2.5M annually which goes into infrastructure renewal.

  If the federal or provincial governments decided to end or reduce any of the fundings, the Town would need to find a way to come up with the funds. For instance, the OMPF reduced the Town’s allocation by $40,000 in 2023, which had to be pulled from stabilization reserves so it would not burden taxpayers.

  She said the main focuses and themes of the 2024 Budget were to address inflation and maintain services levels, incorporating the Town’s new core strategic pillars with a strong focus on customer service and innovations, and finding alternative revenue streams to assist in stabilizing tax increases. For 2024, she said, there is a deficit projected to around $840,000, an equivalent to a 4.8% tax increase to offer the same level of service from 2023.

  The options Council has for that is to increase property taxes, or decrease level of service at the same cost as last year.

  To maintain the same level of service as 2023, Sweet said the Town must account for the increase in costs due to inflation and fixed costs the Town has no control over, such as garbage, wages, insurance, fuel, etc.

  Unique to Essex, Giurissevich said there are multiple mill rates to address the geographic areas in the municipality. The General Mill rate is for services that benefit everyone in Town. The Urban Levy is for anyone in Wards 1 and 4 using storm/sewer systems, and a Rural Levy for Wards 2 and 3 for costs associated with stormwater collection in those areas. There is also a garbage collection levy for residents who receive it.  

  The most significant challenges of the 2024 Budget year were incorporating an anticipated loss in grant revenues, while addressing inflationary expenses and continuing to contribute to Asset Management, which is a long-term process that helps municipalities make best possible decisions on infrastructure, she explained.

  In explaining the changes in the 2023 to 2024 change in taxation, Giurissevich explained there is a Garbage Levy increase of just over half a percent on the tax rate impact. A new tender will be sought in January, as the contract is up in May.

  In addition, the Roads Levy equates to one percent tax rate impact, with inflationary impacts at around one percent, as well.

  She also explained the importance of Asset Management, and that the Town has three different categories for reserves: Discretionary, Capital, and Obligatory. Annually, the Town needs to ensure stabilized increases are proposed to replace assets when those projects come up.

  In terms of long-term debt, Giurissevich said the end of 2023 will be Essex’s highest debt year, as it will be nearly $25M in debt. This was expected because of the Essex and Harrow Streetscape projects. There is quite a bit of debt falling off by 2025, she added.

  She added that anticipated reduction in building is the biggest impact to the 2024 Budget, resulting in the Town collecting less.   

  In the Capital Budget, Giurissevich said The Town has proposed just over $17.5 million.

  Projects included for 2024 year include Irwin Avenue reconstruction – which Council previously approved pre-budget to get an early start on the tendering, continuation of Ridge Road rehabilitation, a new 5-ton snow plow, $160,000 for replacement of Dock C at the Harbour, and a $400,000 playground at Co-An Park, utilizing $200,000 from Essex’s Co-An Park Reserve with Amherstburg to match.

  It also includes $144,000 for firefighter recruitment. Acting Fire Chief Jason Pillon said Essex Fire & Rescue is short ten firefighters and expects two more to retire at the end of 2024. This funding will cover training and required PPE. $140,000 was proposed to get an architect for Station 3 to design the new station.

  Requests from Community Services included $150,000 for amenities for the Essex Sports Park, $50,000 for a corporate tree inventory and assessment, and $50,000 for new swings at Stanton Park. There may be an appetite to ask the community to help fundraise for the swings, as they approached Council for the enhancement. There was also a request of $50,000 for a parking plan in Colchester. It was noted the idea is to have $12,500 in revenue in anticipated paid parking that would be implemented to help off-set the cost of the project.

  Through Infrastructure Service, a new woodchipper is requested at $135,000, with the current device going to Community Service. It also requested an $80,000 generator at the Harrow Public Works to be more prepared during weather events, $100,000 for engineering and site works plan for a 60’x120’ Essex Yard Salt Shed as the current one is too small, and $330,000 for a snow plow.

  In roads, $800,000 for rehabilitation of Wright Road, $470,000 for a new asphalt overlay of Arthur Street, from County Road 20 to Murdock, including Margaret Court and Lawson Court are requested. The Second Phase of Ridge Road Rehabilitation, from Huffman to County Road 50, is also added for $1,050,000. In addition, $300,000 is set aside for engineering design for the Maidstone Avenue/South Talbot Road intersection improvements, and $80,000 for engineering design for the Maidstone Avenue/Talbot Street intersection improvements.

  Council pre-approved the reconstruction of Irwin Avenue for $4.3M.

  Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy spoke of the need for a roads plan, so Council has information to answer resident questions.

  Also included is $450,000 for the design cost for a storm sewer rehabilitation program for improvements to the various storm outlets for future construction, and $350,000 for a Servicing Master Plan, including an Environmental Assessment to identify servicing needs and priorities for waster, wastewater, and stormwater.

  It was also recommended to fund $750,000 for Ward 1 OCWA major projects for improvements at the Essex Pollution Control Plant and the North East Lagoon. It also recommends $76,500 to replace assets in Ward 3 and $90,000 to replace assets in Ward 4. Funding would come from the Sanitary Sewer Reserve for these projects.

  The Operating Budget is proposed at $53M.

  Annually, salaries account for over 25% of the Town’s operating budget expenditures. Total Proposed 2024 Salaries, Wages, Benefits, and Personnel Budget is $13,863,332, a $794,437 increase from last year.

  Two new full-time positions have been requested in the 2024 Budget for Council to consider. The first is for a Public Works Operator at $93,401, which would impact the budget. The Town should have three additional Public Works Operators, Sweet said, adding staffing levels for this division has not changed since the 1999 amalgamation.

  The second proposed position is a Water Operator for $99,625, which would be user-rate supported. Sweet said Essex is short a Water Operator for the size of the municipality.

  The proposed 2024 Budget document, including all proposed items and projects, can be viewed on essex.ca

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