Huron County budget process begins with proposed 4.33 per cent levy increase
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Huron County Council is considering a 2021 budget that includes a 4.33 per cent levy increase for a total of over $45.6 million.
Treasurer Michael Blumhagen presented the first draft of the budget at council’s Dec. 6 meeting. Assessment in the county has increased by just under $150 million, meaning that, if the county were to maintain its 2020 tax rates, it would support a 1.14 per cent increase to the levy. As a result, Blumhagen’s proposed levy increase would represent a tax rate increase of 3.16 per cent.
He told councillors that for the median residential home in Huron County, valued at $208,000, the proposed increase would mean a tax increase of just over $30 per year. For the median farm property, valued in Huron County at $985,200, the increase would amount to $35.53.
In his report to council, Blumhagen said that, acting on council’s wish to limit staff salary increases, non-union salary increases will be set at 1.5 per cent for 2021.
The county is still on the hook for several grants in 2021, including $66,000 to the Huron County Food Bank Distribution Centre, $20,000 to the Regional Equine and Agricultural Centre of Huron (REACH) and $150,000 to the Alexandra Marine and General Hospital in Goderich.
He also noted that a recently-approved grant to the United Way Perth-Huron’s Social Research and Planning Council in the amount of $30,000 had not yet been factored into the budget.
Blumhagen also detailed numerous ongoing pressures to the county budget, including rising union salary costs and the loss of Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) money. In 2021, the county’s OMPF allocation was reduced by $187,000 and Blumhagen said he estimates the funding to the county will soon be eliminated entirely.
He also said that rising insurance costs will also affect this year’s budget. In 2021, the county’s insurance costs have risen by $416,900, which is just under one per cent of the county’s entire budget.
Goderich Mayor John Grace said he really felt the county should utilize its reserves this year. While they are stored away for future infrastructure projects and good planning, he said, they are also there for a “rainy day” and unprecedented circumstances and he couldn’t think of anything more unprecedented than the current COVID-19 pandemic. He recommended utilizing reserves to fill the hole created by not increasing the tax rate and maybe even decreasing it slightly to aid people through such a challenging time.
Grace did acknowledge that the financial realities of the pandemic will hit all levels of government in the next three to five years, especially at the federal level. But he felt the county should do what it could to give residents a break now.
Past-Warden Jim Ginn said that provincial and federal deficits are getting out of control and there was no doubt in his mind that in the next three to five years, in order to trim those deficits, federal and provincial governments would be cutting funding to regions like Huron County, so having healthy reserves would make for prudent planning with what lies ahead.
Blumhagen said the increase only amounts to just over $30 per year for the average home, but that Grace’s point was well taken.
Council did not debate the budget, but will instead wait for a special budget meeting set for Thursday, Feb. 11. However, several department heads presented their departmental budgets to council, including the corporate departments, economic development, planning and development, human resources and library and cultural services.