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Budget season begins in Oshawa

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

After COVID-19 threw a wrench in 2020, city council has now heard the first details about the 2021 budget.

With the pandemic came several unexpected costs to the City of Oshawa. As a result, city staff have recommended a 2.39 per cent tax levy increase for 2021.

According to Commissioner of Finance Stephanie Sinnott, this will see a $47.88 increase to the city portion of property taxes for a property assessed at $356,000 – the average assessment by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation.

Council voted in favour of holding off on any questions during the meeting, instead opting to submit them ahead of the next meeting on Friday, Nov. 27.

However, Councillors Rosemary McConkey, John Neal and Brian Nicholson voted against the decision.

Sinnott tells council that in order to reach the additional 2.39 per cent increase, the city needs an additional increase of $3.59 million to the tax levy.

However, the 2021 budget is different, notes Sinnott, as the city focuses on recovery, as well as the safety of residents, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact,” she says, noting most additional costs due to the pandemic in 2020 were offset through cost mitigation.

She says there are costs included in the 2021 budget for personal protective equipment and screeners at city hall.

Sinnott also says there have been major losses in 2020 revenues due to COVID-19, and there will be significant losses in 2021, including $4.7 million in recreation, and $1.4 million in municipal parking.

There will also be $2.29 million less going to reserves in 2021, as the city looks to mitigate the impact on the tax levy requirement.

The one-time adjustment is being offset by the use of interfund notes, she explains, which are being used to fund capital projects. Future repayments will be spread over a few years.

According to Sinnott, the Tribute Communities Centre also faces a number of problems due to COVID-19.

Because of the pandemic, she explains the facility was unable to host a number of events in 2020, and faces even more losses in 2021, as fans will not be able to attend Oshawa Generals games, which could include the 2021 Memorial Cup.

She notes major projects in 2021 include various building and replacement equipment, parks redevelopment, reconstruction of a major road bridge, asphalt preservation, and other road projects.

Oshawa CAO Paul Ralph acknowledges the road ahead will be long and hard, as the city looks to find ways to keep residents safe from COVID-19.

“It’s been a difficult year, and it will continue to effect… our day-to-day operations,” he says.

Deliberations for the 2021 budget will continue on Friday, Nov. 27, with meetings also scheduled on Friday Dec. 4, and Friday, Dec. 11. Both are at 9:30 a.m.

Final approval of the 2021 budget is expected on Friday, Dec. 11.