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City approves 3.13 tax increase for 2017

That includes special 1 per cent levy, twice what staff recommended

Guelph’s property taxes are going up 3.13 per cent in 2017.

That includes a special 1 per cent tax levy that was approved by City Council Wednesday.

Staff had recommended a 0.5 per cent special levy to battle the city's infrastructure woes, but council took it a step further. The levy will be used for both infrastructure and "city building" capital projects.

For perspective, a 3.13 per cent increase tax increase means a home assessed at $316,000 will pay an addiditonal $104.79 on their property taxes in 2017. The special levy accounts for $33 of that.

Homeowners will also be paying an additional $48 a year on their hydro bill next year as stormwater funding shifts off the tax bill to hydro bills.

The 2017 budget was passed during a six and a half hour meeting at City Hall.

It includes a $222.9 million operating budget and a $62.2 million capital budget.

Other budget highlights included:

- $843,050 for 6 of the 10 expansions recommended by staff that got approved, the most expensive being $$351,000 for full 24-hour EMS service in the Erin area. Those expansions add 10 staff positions.

- a move to restore summer transit service to 2015 levels was voted down.

- $700,000 for the purchase of parking metres for downtown Guelph was taken out of the 2017 budget and $684,000 of it put towards a detailed design study for a South End Recreation Centre. The metres likely return next year.

- $50,000 for preliminary work regarding a bike skills park in the city.

- $40,000 for downtown garbage collection on weekends.

- $23,000 for 30-minute bus service on Boxing Day and the Civic Holiday in August.

- $5,000 to help put on an event similar to the Tragically Hip concert viewing of last summer should the opportunity arise.

- $9,100 removed from the budget as councillors individually sacrificed various amounts of their allotted training budget.

Wednesday’s finalizing of the budget went fairly smoothly. The 1 per cent levy and the failed attempt to have summer transit service restored to 2015 levels received the most debate.

While council passed a motion supporting it for 10 years, the levy, and its amount, will be reviewed each year.

“We have to do it. We have to do it. I’m going to be brave on this,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie in supporting a 1 per cent tax levy.

“We have a major problem with our infrastructure in this city. We’re doing a major disservice if we didn’t tell the truth. We have a $191 million problem,” Guthrie said.

“We can’t keep kicking this down the road. I don’t want to burden my kids with this.”

A 1 per cent levy passed by a 9-3 vote. Voting against it were councillors Bob Bell, Dan Gibson and Christine Billings.

“We would be losing a great and unique opportunity if we didn’t go for this 1 per cent,” Coun. James Gordon said.

“We owe it to our children and we owe it to our grandchildren to clean up this problem,’ Coun. Cathy Downer added.

Guthrie said council and staff already did a good job at looking within for savings, as shown by a 2.13 per cent tax-supported increase as well as upcoming service reviews that will likely identify other potential savings.

He also said there was little “push back” from the community on a 0.5 per cent levy because people understand it is needed.

Some councillors were also upset that they found out during the final budget meeting that the city coffers had just received an extra $400,000 in the form of a dividend from Guelph Hydro Electric System and $770,000 from Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health that was a rebate from the city’s contribution to their new building.

That extra money was also placed in the Infrastructure Renewal Reserve Fund.

Gibson felt that contribution to infrastructure should have been a sufficient contribution to that fund for 2017 and that another 1 per cent was “outing a premium on this year’s budget.”

Bell said 1 per cent was “a little bit more than I had an appetite for.”

Guthrie called this year’s budget process “the most transparent budget I’ve ever seen.”