By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County residents can expect a 1.67 per cent increase on the upper tier portion of their tax bills for 2020.
County councillors passed the budget during a Jan. 22 meeting.
While a draft budget presented to council in the fall had included a projected tax increase of 3.97 per cent as treasurer Elaine Taylor told councillors last week a larger-than-expected increase in property assessments in the county allowed her to drop the tax rate. Property taxes are calculated by multiplying the tax rate by a property’s assessed value through the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation. While the first draft of the budget included an assessment increase of one per cent when the assessment roll was delivered it turned out assessments in the county had actually grown by 3.34 per cent thus allowing the tax rate increase to be dropped to 1.67 per cent. Approximately one per cent of that assessment growth came from new construction and combined property assessment in the county totals nearly $9 billion.
For residential properties the tax increase translates to an additional $3.52 for every $100000 of assessment. So the owner of a home assessed at $300000 would pay an additional $10.46 at the upper tier for the year. For commercial properties the increase will amount to $5.61 for every $100000 of assessment and for industrial properties and increase of $6.04 for every $100000 of assessment.
The 2020 county budget contains more some $28.7 million in spending with the tax levy constituting just more than $19 million. The remaining money comes from sources such as provincial and federal funding and debentures.
The largest chunk of spending from the tax levy comes in the form of transportation which includes the roads department at 47 per cent. Health which includes the county’s EMS department constitutes 17 per cent of spending; general government 12 per cent; social services and housing 10 per cent; planning and development eight per cent; recreation and cultural services which is essentially the Haliburton County Public Library five per cent; and protection to persons and property one per cent.
The budget includes a one per cent cost-of-living increase for Haliburton County staff which equates to a $96000 increase in wages for the year. Wages and benefits comprise 34 per cent of spending in the budget.
There will be an overall contribution to reserves of more than $70000 for the year bringing the county’s total reserves to approximately $3.95 million. The county achieved its reserve goal of $4 million in 2018 and reserves are expected to stay around that level for 2020. Taylor also told councillors she intends to work on a formal reserves policy as the county is currently without one.
The county will take out a new $3-million loan to help with roads work but with another loan reaching the end of its payment period the county’s annual debt repayment will actually drop by more than $320000. CAO Mike Rutter told councillors the most recent loan will essentially bring the county to a point a sustainability with its service delivery.
When councillors decided in the spring of 2019 they would not proceed with a rural transportation project at the time they agreed they would revisit the subject during 2020 budget deliberations. There had been $50000 budgeted for the project in 2019 which was left in reserve and another $50000 will be contributed for 2020.
“I think there was some expensed from the $50000 council allocated” Rutter said explaining that reserve now sits at just below $43000. “This $50000 will be transferred to reserves at the end of this year.”
As Rutter explained while some provincial gas tax money is earmarked for municipal transportation projects it’s only available retroactively leaving start-up expenses for any project with the municipality for the first year. A transportation implementation plan the county had commissioned in 2018 indicated that start-up costs for a transportation system for the county could be up to $300000 for the first year depending upon the model.
“Should council choose to get into the business you are building up a reserve of almost $100000” Rutter said explaining it was staff’s intention to continue allotting $50000 per year for the purpose.
“There always comes a time in a budget process wherein . . . something gets finished up or completed” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt. “and that amount of money that was put on the levy a number of years ago still remains.”
Moffatt wondered if there might come a time in the near future where the completion of such a project would happen at the county level that a sufficient amount of money within the tax levy might be freed up to direct to a rural transportation project.
“That’s all” Moffatt said. “More of an observation.”
“The realism of the thing is that we pretty well know that in 2020 we’re not going to be able to move forward on much” said Highlands East Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall. “ . . . Do we continue to add money to this particular project with the idea or expectation that some day maybe we’ll get something?”
“The short answer to that question is it’s totally up to council” Rutter replied. “From my perspective what we’ve been trying to get you in a position where first-year costs are dealt with . . . So that ultimately council can say we’re ready to pull the trigger we’re ready to go.”
Tax bills for county residents consist of a county portion lower-tier portion with those tax rates established by each of the respective lower-tier councils and a school board portion the latter of which has been trending downward in recent years. Of 13 counties in eastern Ontario for 2019 Haliburton County had the second-lowest property tax rate after the County of Frontenac.