Wellington County Council adopted its 2017 budget on Jan. 26 with a 2.9 per cent increase in the County portion of property taxes, by a vote of 10-6.
“This budget focuses on strategic investments in the County’s infrastructure, solid waste services, technology, libraries and social services,” said Warden Dennis Lever.
“The County’s forward thinking budget practices and sound financial management ensure long-term sustainability in times of financial constraints, including significant losses in funding from gravel pit assessment changes and reductions to the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund.”
Erin Mayor Al Alls and Councillor Pierre Brianceau were hoping for a lower tax increase, but both voted in favour of the budget. The increase had previously been reduced to 3.1 per cent by delaying the hiring of an OPP officer.
Alls said the further cut to 2.9 per cent was made by dipping into reserves, and internal savings to be found by department managers.
Wellington will have operating expenditures of $200 million this year, with $91.4 million raised through the tax levy.
Highlights of the 2017 budget include increased investment in roads capital infrastructure over the next five years, addressing 18 of the 32 bridges and culverts requiring replacement. The County is also supporting the construction of eleven new affordable housing units in Palmerston.
The County, with the City of Guelph, is implementing the Ambulance Response Time Improvement Plan, including the addition of four paramedics to serve the Town of Erin with a 24-hour operation.
The third installment of the $9.4 million municipal investment in the County’s three local hospitals will be made, as well as the third contribution in a five-year municipal investment in fibre optic technology as part of the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) Programme
Other initiatives include construction of the new Hillsburgh Library in 2017, the first full year of expanded rural curbside collection, and staffing enhancements at Wellington Terrace to provide behavioural supports for the increasing number of residents with dementia and additional shifts to support the rising level of care required at the facility.
One aspect of the budget that concerns Erin is the addition of four paramedics as part of the ambulance response time improvement plan approved recently by the City of Guelph. This will enable 24-hour coverage from the Hillsburgh station.
The county funds about 40 per cent of the municipal share of land ambulance costs. The service improvement for Erin will cost Wellington $225,000.
Construction of the new Hillsburgh Library Branch is still planned for 2017, with a total cost of $4.8 million.
County-wide, capital works planned in the roads budget for 2017 include about $5.2 million for bridge and culvert replacement and rehabilitation; $4.8 million for road reconstruction; $3.3 million for asphalt resurfacing; and $2 million for equipment replacement.
To alleviate pressures on the tax levy, the forecast calls for $10.2 million in new debt for projects that include the replacement of three bridges ($4.7 million), and the rebuild of the County Garage in Erin ($2.0 million).
Council remains committed to its multi-year hospital funding initiative, which was opposed in Erin since it would provide few direct benefits to local residents. Groves Memorial Hospital in Centre Wellington will get $10 million, while Louise Marshall Hospital in Mount Forest and Palmerston District Hospital will each get $2.2 million.
The county has yet to transfer $8.5 million of that commitment; $6.7 million will be debt financed and the rest will come from the Hospital Capital Grant Reserve.
Total outstanding debt will be $26.8 million in 2017.