Region of Waterloo expects $10M surplus for 2021

The Region of Waterloo expects to end the year with a $10.3 million surplus, the bulk of which came from a surplus in property taxes.

Police services board approves request for $12M budget increase to hire 35 officers

Regional staff and council announced Wednesday there was a "modest" surplus of $10.3 million for the 2021 budget. (Brian St. Denis/CBC)

The Region of Waterloo expects to end the year with a $10.3 million surplus, the bulk of which came from a surplus in property taxes.

The surplus amounts to a "modest" 1.9 per cent of the revenue the region saw from property taxes and user rates, according to a report presented to council.

Councillor Tom Galloway says this year's projections are in line with previous years' surpluses. 

"Municipalities in the province of Ontario cannot budget deficits unlike federal and provincial government," Galloway said. "You pretty well have to run a surplus every year."

The $10 million will be allocated to the capital reserve to help with one-time expenses and pay for projects that will be funded by other governments at a later date.

Galloway says this reserve typically operates at a maximum of $15 million in a given year, and this year's surplus could help fund emergency medical service upgrades and maintenance. 

"I know some people in the community will think, 'Oh, there's a $10.3-million surplus being projected and where [it] could all be used for,'" said Galloway during the regional council meeting on Wednesday. "We're operating on the right side of the line, but still fairly close to the line."

Typically, regional surpluses are not passed onto taxpayers, but are placed in reserves to pay for other one-time expenses.

"A surplus tops up the region's tax stabilization reserve and reduces the amount of future debt needed to finance important infrastructure projects," said Sherry Morley, corporate communications specialist for the Region of Waterloo, in an email to CBC.

"The projected surplus is attributed to a variety of factors, such as increased revenue and cost savings in a variety of program areas. We are also grateful for ongoing financial supports from upper levels of government to offset COVID-related financial impacts."

The final summary of the region's finances is expected in March 2022.

Surplus separate from police budget

The surplus, however, amounts to less than the increase to the Waterloo Regional Police Service budget — if the request is approved by council. The board approved a request for an extra $12.4 million on Wednesday, which would bring the total police budget to $197.7 million for the next fiscal year.

The police services board voted unanimously in favour of the proposal that will see an additional 35 police officers in the community next year.

This was chosen over two revised budget options of hiring 25 members (for a $11.7 million increase) or maintaining current operation levels (for a $ 9.8 million increase).

The approved police budget that will be sent to Waterloo regional council for approval shows a 6.71 increase over last year's budget. According to the report, this would help staff an additional 35 full-time officers. As of Fall 2021, there were 135 members that are absent or accommodated, representing 12 per cent of the authorized complement. (Waterloo Regional Police Services)

While Galloway understands some residents might see the surplus stream as going directly to expanded operations of regional police, he says the surplus is an entirely separate stream of funds.

"That's a real discussion and a real good conversation to have," said Galloway. "But the regional operation surplus does not reflect or relate in any way to the police budget — the police budget has their own budget, they approve it, they send it to us, and we basically have to pay the bill [after approval]."

The police budget for 2021 was almost a fifth of the region's $1 billion budget.