WELLINGTON COUNTY ‒ Some county councillors want to prioritize "needs versus wants" in the 2024 budget, starting by deferring or removing a pricey pavilion project proposed for Wellington Place from the county's 10-year plan.
Leading the charge, Coun. Steve O'Neill asked staff to take the proposed budget reductions a step further, putting a motion on the floor to remove a pavilion planned for the Indigenous gathering circle near the Wellington County Museum and Archives (WCMA) from the 10-year budget during a county council meeting Thursday morning.
This follows the county reducing its proposed tax increase to 4.8 per cent in 2024 during an economic development committee meeting last week, moving to redirect $600,000 of $1.6 million in rural broadband project funds.
"I think that's an excessive amount of money to invest in a project that we do not have to do," said O'Neill. "We are in a spot where our budget is going up and (spending millions) for a service that is not essential to running the county is not necessary."
According to Wellington Place administrator Jana Burns, while staff have reduced the costs for the pavilion project, they are "inevitably" facing increased labour and construction material costs.
Meant to serve as a public gathering space for Indigenous events, the 2024 budget estimates the pavilion will run approximately $1.3 million.
But while several councillors agreed the pavilion should be deferred or removed from the plan, they chose to push off the conversation until future budget discussions.
"I agree with the value of the project I just think if we wait, the residents we serve might move into a time that's more (financially) optimistic," said Warden Andy Lennox. "We know that people are facing increasing (costs) and part of the affordability piece is also property taxes. If we look at the budget holistically, this is an avenue I think we can afford to defer."
Other councillors said they would hate to see the proposal killed before it can get off the ground, arguing the pavilion would be "heavily used."
"When it comes down to whether it's a want versus a need, you can have that argument about almost anything," said Coun. Doug Breen. "(By this logic) you could say New York's Central Park was a waste of money."
One of three parts on a property tax bill, with the other two portions being from the lower-tier municipality and education, county tax rates have increased by an average of 2.4 per cent annually for 14 years between 2009 and 2022.
A report previously projected a 5.3 per cent tax increase for 2024, followed by 4.2 and 3.6 per cent increases in 2025 and 2026.
According to county treasurer Ken DeHart, a one per cent levy increase is equal to $1.2 million.
2024 budget deliberations will continue in January.
Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.