Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Residents in the Region of Queens Municipality (RQM) will be paying slightly more in taxes this year.
RQM council unanimously approved the 2021-22 budget on April 27 that will see a four cent per $100 of assessment increase throughout the region for residential, resource and commercial tax.
Meanwhile, there is a small reprieve for those residents who are on the Liverpool water utility service; they'll see a one cent per $100 of assessment decrease in hydro rates.
RQM Mayor Darlene Norman conceded that the budget was not an easy one.
"This year we had growing demands from the community and just removing things from that first big list was tough," she said.
"We have to replace things as they get old and decrepit, and it all takes money. And at the same time we are all aware that we have a high poverty rate in Queens," said Norman. "It's unfortunate that we haven't had many rate increases in the past several years. I know politically it is unpopular, but if you want to keep your municipality moving forward then tax increases are inevitable."
Tax rates support operational services such as fire services, street lighting, solid waste collection and paving.
The operating budget this year is $21,968,378, which includes the municipality's operation of the residential group home Hillsview Acres. The 2021-22 water utility budget totals $758,678 and the capital budget sits at $22,459,135.
Norman said the municipality is continuing with work to replace old water infrastructure in the former town of Liverpool.
Meanwhile, half of the tax rate increase will go toward the five fire departments located within the region. This amounts to $196,433 in additional funding for fire departments.
The other half will pay for several cost increases that are out of the municipality's control, including a 3.00 per cent increase, or $91,803, for policing; a 26 per increase for education, amounting to $37,562; and a solid waste contract resulting in a 21 per cent increase, amounting to $216,043.
"The increased costs for RCMP is never a surprise. We know that will increase every year; we just don't know the amount," said Norman. "The biggest thing was the solid waste increase. We only had one tender submitted so they had us over a barrel," admitted the mayor, while adding that the director of engineering was able to negotiate a bit of a deal nonetheless.
Capital projects totaling $22,459,135 have been budgeted for as well, pending grant approvals. Out of that, $850,000 has been set aside for funding at the municipal level, with other funding expected to come from the provincial and federal governments and private sources.
The capital projects include sewer and water work on Court Street, the Union to Waterloo Street project, a new above-ground fuel system at the airport in Greenfield, and investments in broadband.
Also included is money to replace the Milton South Queens Aquatic Centre ($2.5 million), and the Hillsview Acres residential care home that is more than 100 years old ($13.6 million).
"The Milton pool was built in 1967 and it now has some major issues. People have said to me that we don't really need it. But we need to attract more people to Queens," said Norman. "We have a lot of families with young children and we need to make Queens an attractive place to live, and the majority of council believes a new outdoor pool is something that is required."
RQM staff currently are working on plans for the pool. No timeline was given for the project.
Hillsview Acres located in Middlefield "is very substandard to what is expected for residential care today," explained Norman, adding, for example, that some residents share a single washroom and there is no elevator or exterior fire exits for the wooden building. "It is in drastic need of replacement," said Norman. "It's been a waiting game for years. I don't know how much longer we can wait."
One of the largest and most difficult part of the budget was not granting request for more staff, according to the mayor.
"While we say we are going to try and attract more business, and that we need to attract more people, we're also putting more workload on our staff and not increasing our numbers," lamented Norman. "All of our departments are very bare-boned."
Norman gave the example that while numerous people are planning housing developments, acreages and subdivisions, the municipality has only one development officer and two building inspectors.
"We simply cannot keep up with the applications for building permits in a timely fashion and, unfortunately, people are going to have to be patient," she said. "We are also creating more bylaws, but we only have one bylaw officer to do everything."
Property taxes will soon be mailed out with a due date set for June 1. No interest will be charged for any taxes paid on or before June 30, 2021.