Grey County councillors have received a pre-Halloween scare with their first look at the draft 2024 budget.
County council received a frightening first look at the draft budget numbers at a special virtual committee of the whole meeting held on Oct. 24. The draft 2024 budget forecasts a 12.12 per cent increase in county taxes.
Warden Brian Milne called the preliminary numbers “alarming.”
“I think we can agree it’s not going to get any easier going ahead,” he said at the conclusion of the proceedings.
The draft 2024 budget calls for a net (after new growth and other minor changes in the county tax ratios) increase to the county tax levy of $8,432,278 or 12.12 per cent. For the average home in the county assessed at $290,000 the increase would be $134.22 for the year.
Staff outlined a number of drivers for the proposed increase including:
- $509,500 to restore a levy contribution to health care that was cut in 2023.
- $600,000 going to reserve for the Rockwood Terrace long-term care home construction.
- $489,000 in increased paramedic department costs.
- Increases to the county’s staff complement.
- Costs to implement the IT strategic plan and new human capital software.
- A decrease in provincial funding for Ontario Works of $163,800.
- An increase in the county’s contribution to the local health unit due to provincial changes.
- Cost of living increases, as well as pay equity, collective agreement settlements and benefits renewal.
- 2024 is a leap year – staff estimated the extra day would cost the county close to $200,000.
The hour-long meeting was meant to present the initial numbers to county council, with more specific changes and alterations to the budget to come at budget meetings scheduled in December.
Several members of county council indicated a desire to have another meeting in short order to begin the process of examining how to cut the proposed increase.
Owen Sound Deputy Mayor Scott Greig called the numbers “astounding.”
“We cannot land anywhere close to that kind of increase,” said Greig. “Council needs to make tough decisions.”
Owen Sound Mayor Ian Boddy had a similar take on the numbers.
“We’re talking over 10 per cent. We’re talking drastic, big, big, big changes,” said Boddy, adding that such an increase would not be acceptable to the public. “We need to take some hard looks and develop a new approach.”
The Blue Mountains Mayor Andrea Matrosovs said she was “in favour of as many meetings as it takes” to get the budget under control. She called for the county to engage the province on the issue of inflation and how it is impacting spending. Matrosovs said she has a meeting upcoming with Simcoe-Grey MPP Brian Saunderson to talk about the issue and said Grey County should do the same with Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Rick Byers.
“The more we speak in unison, the more we emphasize the pressures we’re under,” she said.
West Grey Mayor Kevin Eccles called the numbers “scary” and called for another meeting as soon as possible for council to establish a target for county staff to try and achieve.
“Where is the target? If we don’t have a target, what are we shooting for?” said Eccles, adding that a 12.12 per cent would not be good for local inflation. “How much are we adding to inflation? We are inflation then.”
Chatsworth Mayor Scott MacKey called on county council to have a conversation about the essential and non-essential services.
“It is time for us to look at what we have to do and the additional items that are nice add ons,” said MacKey. “We need to look at the non-essentials, unfortunately.”
No decisions were made at the meeting and county staff will look to schedule another budget committee of the whole meeting as soon as possible.
By Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Oct 24, 2023 at 11:50