Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained some erroneous budget numbers for individual expenditures. The Lake Report regrets the errors.
The average Niagara-on-the-Lake homeowner will pay $92 more in municipal taxes this year after town council approved an 8.62 per tax hike Monday night.
The large tax increase passed after councillors narrowly voted down another motion asking staff to look for more ways to cut the budget.
“I have no interest in opening the budget again,” Coun. Clare Cameron told councillors Monday.
“We can’t go forward – we’re already in the 2020 year – if people don’t have a budget. It’s our responsibility to keep this town operating. Let’s finalize this and move on so we can get some work done.”
The 2020 operating budget was set at $12,686,151, which is 10.14 per cent more than last year. In actual dollars, spending will rise $1,167,601. Council also transferred $650,000 from the town’s parking reserves in order to reduce the hit on taxpayers.
A storm levy of $437,199 (a 2.48 per cent increase from 2019) means people who live in the town’s urban area will pay an additional $4 fee annually.
For taxation purposes, the average NOTL residence is assessed at $530,900.
In a news release issued Tuesday, interim CAO Sheldon Randall attributed the budget’s increase to legal fees, staff salaries, transfers to the capital reserve and flood mitigation.
Facing a surge in litigation, the town has budgeted $1,151,870 more for legal fees this year (a $1 million increase), and $11,994,607 for salaries, an additional $300,000 for flood prevention and $2,120,000 for the capital reserve fund.
The capital budget, totalling $10,383,750, was approved at the council’s Dec. 16 meeting. That’s an increase of $1,348,000 or 14.9 per cent from 2019. The approved 10-year capital forecast sits at $80,330,500.
Since the December meeting, when councillors deferred making a decision on the operating budget, town staff identified two options to help council limit the tax increase.
According to a staff report, one option, which was approved, was to include in the budget an additional $100,000 that the town earns in interest on funds held in various bank accounts. That move brought the tax increase down to 8.62 per cent from 9.48 per cent.
Another option suggested allocating potential revenue from a planned municipal accommodation tax to the operating budget, which would have reduced the operating increase to 5.14 per cent from 8.62 per cent.
Since council on Monday deferred making a decision on the hotel tax, councillors didn’t vote on the second option but approved the first one.
In 2020, capital projects include $3,117,000 allocated to the town’s roads department while the water department will receive $3,083,500.
According to the 10-year capital projects forecast, this year council will spend $1,868,000 on parks, recreation and facilities, while the fire and emergency services department will receive $260,750.
The town will also spend $5,000 on transit, $127,000 on street lighting, $340,000 on wastewater, $451,000 on public works vehicles and equipment, and $160,750 on corporate services.
Some of the biggest capital projects include road resurfacing of Circle Street in Chautauqua ($226,000); on Henegan and Walker roads ($130,000); Gate Street from Anne Street to John Street ($283,000) and culvert improvements at Concession 6 Road from Niagara Stone Road to Line 2 ($121,000).
Four Mile Creek Road will see road improvements from Hunter Road to Wall Street at a cost of $132,000, and from Wall to Lakeshore Road in the amount of $420,000. There will also be road construction on Concession 6 Road, from Niagara Stone Road to Line 2, at a cost of $800,000.
The fire and emergency services department will spend $50,000 on replacing firefighters’ personal protective equipment, such as gloves, helmets, boots, bunker gear, protective hoods and coveralls.
Among other projects are $40,000 for library collection development, redesigning the community centre’s front entrance at a cost of $180,000 and expanding tennis courts at Veterans Memorial Park for $125,000.