Sunday, July 21, 2024

Potential 9.26 per cent tax hike and other highlights from Quinte West’s budget deliberations

The Quinte West municipal building. – Photo via Quinte West’s Facebook

Quinte West’s council met with agencies and community organizations during budget deliberations from Wednesday to Thursday and one message ran through: it’s going to be a hard year.

The municipality is looking at a 9.26 per cent tax increase for the city with each home looking at an average increase of $322 to their year’s taxes. This is coming on the heels of a year of record inflation throughout the country where everyone is feeling the rising cost of groceries, gas, and daily living.

Council received a letter from one such resident, Steve Glover, asking them to consider any possibility of avoiding such a tax hike.

“9 per cent tax increase [is a] disappointment,” Glover wrote to council, “I don’t know how they can propose this rate when they know people are unable to keep up with increasing finances.”

But council also has to face the rising costs of living and how to achieve levels of maintenance for the city. Their planned two-day consultation did not end with a resolved budget for the coming year, but instead has recessed to Monday, when they hope to deal with some of the big-budget items affecting the year.

Below are some of the items on Quinte West council’s plate and details on how they are facing them.

A decrease in provincial and federal funding:

Every year, the municipality receives funding from the higher levels of government through the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund, the Canada Community Building Fund and the Ontario Municipal Partnering Fund. Though there was an increase of $120 thousand from the CCBF, the municipality is receiving $1.15 million less than last year. This will affect what projects can move forward in the coming year.

Trent Port Marina breakwall

The Trent Port Marina has floating structures within the bay that help to mitigate the potential damage of storms or waves from the Bay of Quinte. Ideas on how to replace them have been bouncing around since 2022, and now the council is facing down a $7 million replacement project alongside yearly budget allotments. While consulting on the budget and where money should go in 2024, council is holding off on a decision until Monday, when they can devote more time to the matter.

External community partners and community grants

Overall, the municipality offers grant support to a wide range of external community groups including the Trenton Curling Club, the YMCA, the Kingston Health Sciences Centre and the Quinte West Youth Centre. Twelve different organizations met with council on Thursday, each sharing their growing needs due to rising costs, recovering from the financial losses faced through the COVID pandemic and population growth within the municipality.

“Our needs are the greatest when the needs of the citizens are the greatest,” said Greg Sudds from the Humane Society as he told council of their limited space for the number of surrendered and abandoned animals in the community.

“One of the difficulties this year,” said Councillor Card, “is that we have so many amazing community groups and a severe lack of funding.”

While recognizing the role these organizations play in community care, council asked many groups to think outside the box on how to get funding, including grant applications and fundraising opportunities within the community. To some, council offered in-kind opportunities, like lending tables to groups like the Quinte West Youth Centre to cut out rental fees.

“Lives are saved by what you do,” said Coun. Freeman to youth centre CEO Jessica Coolen.

Affordable Housing

Included in those looking for grant support was the Quinte Affordable Housing Corporation, which is working on College Street to build a multi-unit housing development. They asked that their yearly allotment of $150,000 be doubled to $300,000 to help build a reserve in case federal funding like the Housing Acceleration Fund doesn’t come through. With the help of Quinte West Council, their hope is to build a reserve of $1 million to build the facility and offer affordable housing to vulnerable members of the community.

“Everybody deserves a place to live and deserves to be treated with respect,” Mayor Harrison stated. He added that he hopes they can find a way of communicating with the community that is welcoming to those who need such support.

Coun. Card also expressed his support for the College Street initiative, referring to it several times over the course of the two meetings.

“This could be a wonderful legacy project for this term of council to go big on,” he said.

Increase in bus fares

Along with an increase in taxes, transit users are also looking at the possibility of an increase to bus fares.

Shelly Shackers, who presented to council, said fares were supposed to increase in 2020, but with COVID lockdowns the increase was deferred. The current suggestion is an increase of five dollars to monthly passes; specialized services, like ordering a bus trip from Trenton to Belleville, would increase by one dollar.

Monday’s meeting

No decisions were made on the many items presented to council through the two days, though expressions of support, or lack thereof, were given by various council members to community groups, external partners and city departments. The council reconvenes Monday morning at 9 a.m. to continue their discussions and get the budget of 2024 settled.

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