By Francis Baker
Wellington County council has adopted a 2013 budget that includes a 2.4 percent increase to the county’s portion of property taxes.
But the budget wasn’t endorsed by all members of council, and passed only after a lengthy debate on whether to move up a planned new library for Hillsburgh into the 2013 budget year, Centre Wellington Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj said.
A new library branch for Hillsburgh had been slotted into the county’s five-year plan for 2015-16, but it was suggested the project be moved ahead.
“That was a big discussion,” Ross-Zuj said. There was also some discussion on the proposed budget amount for the branch.
The county entered budget discussions with a proposed 2.9 percent increase. Deferring hiring a fire prevention officer for one year and reducing a transfer to the social services reserve, proposed in an adjustment given to councillors before the meeting, reduced the increase to 2.4 percent.
That works out to an increase of $48 over the year on the county portion of the tax bill for a house assessed at $300,000.
Last year, the county used similar adjustments to drastically reduce its planned increase, letting local municipalities effectively have higher local tax increases while keeping the overall increase within cost-of-living ranges. The county levy accounts for more than half the property tax bill in most county municipalities, so changes in the county’s budget have a large impact on the overall tax increase.
“This year, the window of opportunity wasn’t as great,” Ross-Zuj said.
“County council has passed a responsible budget,” said Mapleton Ward Councillor John Green, who chairs the administration, finance and personnel committee. “This budget reflects council’s long standing tradition of delivering high quality programs and essential services in a cost effective manner. I’d like to thank council and staff for their efforts in the preparation of this budget.”
County warden Chris White said the budget will protect and enhance priorities and services.
“The county will continue to support the community by improving and maintaining its roads, bridges and solid waste services,” White said. “We’ll also continue to invest in new infrastructure and repair existing infrastructure.”
He specifically referred to the new OPP operations centre in Teviotdale and the expansion of the Fergus library branch as projects continuing this year.
The budget includes some $12.9 million investment in county-run roads and bridges, additional service hours at Elora, Rockwood, Harriston, Arthur and Erin library branches, construction work at the county archives, a $7.7 million contribution to new public health offices in Guelph and Orangeville, and money to implement the county’s economic development strategic plan.