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Regional Council approves two per cent guideline

By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter

Residents are looking at up to a two per cent property tax increase next year, despite efforts from some councillors to halt the increase and dip into reserves.

Durham Regional Council approved the guideline at its most recent meeting, which would see a $56 increase on the yearly residential taxes for residents owning a home estimated at $483,100.

During what was a lengthy discussion on the matter, Oshawa Regional and City Councillor Brian Nicholson noted the region’s reserve funds for “rainy days” should be used.

“With the COVID situation, I can’t think of a better opportunity for us to use those reserve funds and bring down the property tax guideline,” he says. “I do not believe [a two per cent increase] is something we should be imposing on our residents or businesses at this point in time.”

He adds while everyone is focused on trying to recover during this crisis, an increase is the wrong message to send in the current climate.

Clarington Regional Councillor Joe Neal agreed with Nicholson that approving the increase would send the wrong message to residents. He attempted to amend the motion, which was defeated, for a zero per cent increase, noting there are other ways in which the region saved money this year that could help eliminate an increase.

“There were a lot of hires that were supposed to take place in 2020 that didn’t happen. There’s a lot of savings because what was authorized in the 2020 budget wasn’t hired,” he says.

However Durham Region’s Commissioner Nancy Taylor says achieving the two per cent will be a “significant challenge” in order to maintain current services.

According to the report, the preliminary budget analysis indicates “a number of base pressures and non-discretionary items that are required to continue to deliver the region’s existing programs and services,” including 2020 budget decisions and adjustments for one-time items included in the 2020 budget; contractual and inflationary increases; economic increases, such as salary and benefit contracts; and items given 2021 pre-budget approval for initiatives under the region’s COVID-19 Recovery Plan.

In total, the report states these base pressures result in a budgetary pressure of approximately 3.5 per cent.

“Staff continue to review these base submissions to look for efficiencies and savings to mitigate the impacts of these items to achieve the recommended 2021 property tax guideline of two per cent,” the report reads.

She also notes that using the reserve funds would “essentially be doubling up on a tax levy increases next year.”

Nicholson says the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis and the pain should be shared.

“That means government as well. If that means we have to defer two per cent of the projects or hiring for a year or two in order to give people some relief, that is not a lot to ask,” he adds.

Council also approved the 2021 business plan and budget for the Durham Regional Police Services Board, which cannot exceed $221.16 million, an increase of about three per cent. The operation budget for each conservation authority saw a 2.5 per cent increase, and the 2021 special benefiting programs budget saw a 1.5 per cent increase.

Council will look to approve the final 2021 Water Supply and Sanitary Sewerage Business Plans and Budgets on Dec. 16, 2020, and the 2021 Property Tax Supported Business Plans and Budgets on Jan. 27, 2021.