Potential 4 per cent tax increase kicks off region's 2017 budget talks

Taxpayers in Region of Waterloo could see a four per cent tax increase if councillors are unable to figure out new revenue sources and cut spending, budget committee chairman Sean Strickland says

Near constant tax increases by municipal governments unsustainable, budget committee chair says

The Region of Waterloo's budget committee is beginning its budget process for 2017. (Google Streetview)

Regional councillors will need to take a hard look at finances to avoid a hefty increase to taxpayers next year, budget committee chairman Sean Strickland says.

"We're going to have some challenges. Each year brings new challenges with each new budget and this year I think the challenges are going to be particularly difficult in order to keep any tax increases at a minimum," Strickland said.

A report being presented at the budget committee meeting Wednesday says the 2017 budget would mean a 2.3 per cent increase in taxes.

But the report does not include the police budget, funds to improve Grand River Transit or money for ambulance service upgrades, so the actual initial increase is closer to four per cent, Strickland says.

"We recognize that's not acceptable for the region, and we'll have to roll up our sleeves and see what we can do to bring that tax increase down, and also strike that balance in terms of improving the services that our community needs," he said.

Increase revenue, decrease spending

To do that, Strickland said they can look at increasing revenue streams.

This year's report notes the region made $400,000 more from red light tickets than had been budgeted, which Strickland said was largely because the province pushed to have people with outstanding fines pay up.

It's not a revenue stream they can count on, he noted.
A decrease in transit ridership has impacted the regional budget, a report to the budget committee says. (Joe Pavia/CBC)

Ideally, they would find a way to increase transit ridership to increase revenue there, offsetting the costs needed for upgrades.

Strickland added they need to also focus on where cuts can be made.

"Today's going to be our first opportunity to get an overall picture of the budget and as we go through the following weeks, we'll be able to unravel a little bit more and look at different spending areas and see what we can do to decrease spending," he said. "The big thing really is, how do we decrease spending in certain areas to keep that tax increase down."

More input from public

There is going to be more public engagement this year, the report said.

Rather than the usual delegations who come before council, the region will set up an online forum to garner feedback. The budget feedback will be through the region's Engage Waterloo Region section of its website and should be set up in the next couple of weeks.

The public's input will be used by the budget committee during its November and December meetings.

Increasing taxes 'less and less sustainable'

Every year, the region and local municipalities try not to increase taxes, but it happens and Strickland said that's an unsustainable model.

"We really need a new fiscal arrangement with the federal and provincial governments," he said. "Without that fiscal arrangement long term, I think municipalities are going to become less and less sustainable and create more and more challenges and we'll have bigger holes to fill going forward that we won't be able to fill based on raising property taxes."

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