2.82% tax increase overshadowed by new levy proposal

MORRISBURG – After about 15 hours of budget deliberations, the resulting tax rate increase for South Dundas property owners will be 2.82 per cent. Or even more depending on the outcome of a looming debate regarding the possible implementation of a new infrastructure levy.

Council decided last week to cut about $124,000 from the levy proposed in the staff budget to get to that level of increase. Once it receives final approval it will mean about $31 more on the tax bill of a residential property assessed at around $211,000 or $14.68 per $100,000 of residential assessment.

“It’s a number I can live with and one I can defend,” said South Dundas mayor Steven Byvelds in wrapping up day two of deliberations on January 20th.

“I had wanted it to be a little lower,” said South Dundas deputy mayor Kirsten Gardner. “But I’m okay with it even though I had hoped for it to be a little less.”

“I think it’s been a good budget. There’s only so much you can cut,” said South Dundas councillor Lloyd Wells. “Being this is my last budget, I’m happy with this,” added Wells.

“We’ve cut until we couldn’t cut no more,” said South Dundas councillor Donald Lewis, adding that council worked hard on this budget. “I’m happy with where we ended up and I hope the citizens of South Dundas are happy with it also,” said Lewis.

South Dundas councillor Archie Mellan, at the end of the day wanted to ensure there was an allocation to the bridge reserve for 2022. At $100,000 he said it’s insufficient, citing the bridge report recommendation that $400,000 to $700,000 needs to be put aside each year for bridge infrastructure. With this year’s $100,000 contribution, the bridge reserve will sit at $400,000.
“I’m sorry nobody wants to hear this, but we’re just kidding ourselves if we don’t put another $100,000 in there,” said Mellan.

While no member of council was immediately willing to increase the contribution, thus increasing the agreed upon levy, Mellan’s conversation segued into an idea brought forward by Mayor Byvelds.

Byvelds floated the notion of implementing a special five per cent infrastructure levy. The intention of that levy would be strictly to finance roads and bridges.

If this levy comes to fruition, Byvelds does not want it to be included in the tax rate to ensure that it is spent strictly as intended on roads and bridges.

A five per cent infrastructure levy would generate about $350,000 to set aside for future infrastructure needs.

“If you think it’s a stupid idea then say so,” Byvelds told council members as he asked each of them for input.

“I get where you are coming from,” said deputy mayor Gardner. “In a perfect world that would be the exact responsible thing to do.” She recognized that a five per cent levy might not have a great impact on many households however, she also recognized that for some that five per cent would be “absolutely crushing” on top of the 2.82 per cent tax rate increase. “I question whether or not our residents could handle it.”

“There are a lot of businesses that just could not carry that weight,” said Gardner. “On top of all the other expenses people have, I don’t think so.”

“The time is never perfect,” replied Byvelds. “It’s $55 on the average,” he said, adding that some people will not be able to afford it. “But $50 a year is a dollar a week.”

“Either you’re gonna pay now, or you’re gonna pay later,” said Councillor Wells. He added that South Dundas needs some wiggle room when it comes to its borrowing capacity. He said he would entertain the idea of having staff look into an infrastructure levy. “We have to do something,” said Wells. “There’s tough, tough things we have to do as council, and decisions we have to make.”

“We have to have some kind of infrastructure levy,” said Wells. “At the end of the day, it is what it is.”

“At this time, we cannot put the levy up five per cent,” said councillor Lewis. He added that with this pandemic that has been going on for two years, people are struggling and businesses have closed their doors because they can’t afford to stay alive. He said that while $50 might not sound like much, there are families in South Dundas who cannot afford to pay that. “This is what COVID has done to us and not only to us, all over the world,” said Lewis. “We have to start somewhere but $50 is a little steep. I don’t think South Dundas residents can take that kind of a hit. A lot have lost their jobs. Businesses have closed. If we hit them with another five per cent for infrastructure, they’ll never open again.”

“I’m not doing this because I don’t care about the residents of South Dundas,” said Mellan. “It’s quite the opposite. If we continue to ignore this, we’re just going to keep passing it on, and passing it on.”

“We have to do something. Your suggestion Mr. Mayor is not a bad way to go,” said Mellan.

“Fifty dollars is a lot of money to some people. To some people $50 is a case of beer,” said Byvelds. “In the end, we’ve gotta fix what we’ve gotta fix.”

Council asked staff to prepare a report examining the dollars and cents of implementing such a levy. All are willing to entertain that discussion, but that levy will be separate from this year’s resulting budget deliberation decisions.

“Let’s see what the people of South Dundas say,” added Byvelds. “If you have serious concerns let us know.”

South Dundas council unanimously approved the budget bylaw for the municipal and capital operating budgets and the water and sewer budgets at Monday’s regular council meeting. This approval did not include the proposed infrastructure levy.

Discussions and decisions about any proposed infrastructure levy will take place after treasury staff present council with a follow-up report.

“I do look forward to having that discussion again in the near future,” commented Byvelds.

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