Kawartha Lakes council unanimously approved applying a portion of the Safe Restart pandemic funding provided by the province to reduce the tax increase for 2021 to 1.5 per cent.
Over the past eight weeks of budget deliberations, Mayor Andy Letham and council have been staring at a much larger 3.84 per cent increase in the tax levy for 2021. Council went through the budget with a fine-toothed comb in multiple February meetings and reduced the proposed levy to a 3.77 per cent increase.
Council then made a decision to apply 2020 departmental surpluses to bring down the tax levy to a 2.66 per cent increase. Money was found in the fire department, parks and recreation, street lighting, Kawartha Lakes Police Service and library budgets that allowed for this to happen.
Letham was still not happy with that number.
“We have a one-time opportunity to offer our rate payers pandemic relief,” Letham said. “I think we should be aiming for a reduction to 1.5 per cent.”
Councillor Doug Elmslie proposed a 2 per cent tax increase arguing that because of rural areas receiving fewer services and having a lower area rating, a 1.5 per cent increase could actually translate to 0 per cent or even a tax cut making it hard to go back to normally projected increases of 3-4 per cent in 2022.
“I wanted 1 per cent” Letham stated. “Let’s spend this provincial money. If rural areas benefit more that’s alright because some of those areas are struggling the most.”
Councillor Emmett Yeo backed the mayor’s plan. “Everyone will appreciate the break. We have used our provincial funding the best that we can.”
“This will be a bit of a break for our rate payers,” Letham continued. “This decision still leaves some money in reserves and if you add a potential surplus from 2020 with what we will have left over that will give us tons of options moving forward in 2022.”
Councillor Patrick O’Reilly supported Letham’s statement adding, “This will enhance our capital projects available to us in the fall.”
Councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan was very pleased to see an increase in the tax levy of 1.5 per cent with no service cuts in the offing.
The mayor also believed this would not affect the city’s long-term financial plan.