By Tristan Marks
West Lincoln has approved its 2021 Capital and Operating budgets, coming in at a 5.68 per cent tax levy increase for the township’s portion of the bill.
When blended with the Region’s levy, West Lincoln residents will see a 3.1 per cent increase to their tax bill, which works out to a $11.32 increase on the monthly tax bill for an average home assessed at $382,397.
Included in this budget are a number of key items, including:
• $1.3 million of road rehabilitation projects covering 5 km of roads, which represents an increase of $165,000 from 2020 spending;
• A $630,000 project to hard-top just under 4 km of road on Concession 5 between Abingdon Road and Westbrook Road which represents the first hard-topping of a road in over 10 years;
• Additional volunteer firefighter positions at Station #1 in Smithville; and
• A $75,300 hospital levy towards paying West Lincoln’s portion of the WLMH rebuild.
The hospital levy represents the first of five annual deposits into the Township’s hospital reserves. Each year this levy will increase so that by 2025 the reserve fund will contain $8.1 million.
The budget was approved in a 6-1 recorded vote at Monday’s special Council meeting, Coun. William Reilly provided the dissenting vote.
Coun. Reilly voiced his concerns about how high the proposed levy increase was during discussion, noting how many West Lincoln residents and businesses have felt the pinch during the ongoing COVID pandemic.
“We have to be cognizant of the impact COVID has had on our residents,” Reilly said.
“Every little bit counts, especially for people who are out of work.”
Later during discussions, Reilly also asked if it was possible to remove the Urban Services Area tax from the levy, as Ward 3 residents were being “penalized twice” for living within the borders of Smithville.
The Urban Services Area tax was created when the Township first amalgamated in the 1970s, when Smithville was the only area requiring sidewalk and street light maintenance.
“A lot has changed in the past 50 years,” said Reilly after the meeting.
“I really struggled to accept why the residents of Ward 3 are still expected to pay two taxes, while also being forced to cost-share with the other two wards with their related costs, while the other two wards are exempt from contributing to Ward 3.”
He added that despite being exempt from the Urban Services Area tax, Wards 1 and 2 now contain plenty of street lights and regularly maintained sidewalks like Ward 3.
Coun. Cheryl Gannan concurred with Reilly’s point during the budget discussion.
“We do receive complaints from Ward 3 residents asking why they have to pay extra,” she said.
Mayor Dave Bylsma did not allow Reilly to introduce an amendment to remove the Urban Services Area tax, saying that he already put forth a motion that was defeated during budget discussions last month.
However, Reilly said after the meeting that his previous motion was to direct staff to report back on the details and logistics of removing the tax, not to amend the budget to have it removed.
However, many of the other Councillors said they were pleased with the budget, a sentiment that was shared by Mayor Bylsma.
“I’m really pleased with the work and negotiations that our staff and Council put in to this budget,” Bylsma said.
“It responds to a most challenging year and reflects a balance between service and affordability.”