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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Lowest Tax Hike in Years in Owen Sound's Draft Budget

Owen Sound | by Matt Hermiz  

1.6 per cent combined levy increase projected for 2020, as council sends police department budget back for further review.

Owen Sound's 2020 draft budget is on track for the city's lowest tax levy increase in at least the past decade.

City councillors concluded two days of budget deliberations yesterday and rose with the total municipal levy set to rise by 1.9 per in 2020 -- leaving taxpayers set to see a projected combined levy increase of 1.6 per cent.

The draft budget as it stands now would see property tax bills for the average assessment of $218,000 rise by about $60 in 2020.

Part of the reason for the lower levy increase this year is a rise in Ontario Municipal Partnership Funding (OMPF) from the province, Owen Sound Mayor Ian Boddy notes.

According to staff reports, in 2019 the city received $1.4-million in OMPF funding and that amount rose by another $360,000 in 2020.

"We've got to a level where now we're starting to get some of those grants back so naturally it allows us to come in with a lower tax rate," Boddy says. "As I've looked around with our comparators over the last number of years, each year we've had lower tax increases than most. And this, I think, will be an even better year."

The 2020 draft budget still needs council approval and will be brought forward next month at a Jan. 27 meeting.

But, some matters still need to be settled including the city's police department budget for 2020.

Part of yesterday's budget discussions included a resolution by Owen Sound council to send the police department's operating budget back to the police services board for a second look.

All councillors except Coun. Marion Koepke voted in favour of the motion brought forward by Coun. Richard Thomas.

Thomas reminded his colleagues 46 per cent of the city's budget goes to emergency services -- fire and police -- and moved the motion because he says (councillors) have publicly stated a need to find ways to save money on emergency services.

"We have got to get some kind of cost control going here," Thomas exclaims.

The police budget brought before council proposed a 2.4 per cent hike in 2020 --- to a net total of $7.66-million for the department.

The fire department's draft budget for 2020 is $5.34-million, just over $141,000 higher than 2019.

Owen Sound Police Chief Craig Ambrose reminded councillors "90 to 94 per cent" of the police budget goes to wages and benefits, making it difficult to reduce without cutting services.

Coun. Koepke, who sits on the police services board, voted against the council motion to send the police budget back for a second look.

"A police budget is no different than council," Koepke says. "If you want it cut, you have to suggest what services you do without."

The decision to send the budget back to the police services board for another look came after a motion by Coun. John Tamming was defeated to simply turn down the police department's operating budget for 2020.

"I have no issue at all with the quality of the police services we get in town," Tamming says. "But, my understanding is in the history of this budget process we have never turned down a police budget or I believe returned it to the police to re-do. So, I'm pleased we've done that."

"You simply have to send the message that there's a lot of money to be saved and they're not doing it," continues Tamming. "We can't be serious about cutting taxes if we're not serious about police and fire. And, I think this is going to achieve some of that."

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