Simcoe County’s two per cent tax increase in 2017 will go to connecting communities , as well as the supporting people with social services and affordable housing, says Warden Gerry Marshall.
The $469-million budget calls for taxpayers to chip in $151 million, as provincial uploading of Ontario Works and other programs continues. The budget also includes $61 million for social housing, as the county works to boost the supply throughout the area.
Spending for Ontario Works is just over $76 million and support for children and community services – including homelessness prevention programs – rings in at $44.2 million.
But in 2017, the spending plan includes $1.5 million to get the wheels of a county bus system going with the first route linking Midland and Penetanguishene to Barrie.
“Our municipalities have been partnering up – Midland with Penetang, Collingwood and Wasaga Beach, Base Borden, Essa and Barrie,” he said.
“If we can get residents from Midland and Penetang into Barrie, that’s good. That’s where the health services and post-secondary (schools) are.”
Transit would also decrease the transportation costs for Ontario Works clients, whose taxi fees to appointments are covered. As the county moves to providing bus passes in communities where there’s transit, it’s seeing costs drop.
The county is also seeing its Ontario Works costs being uploaded to the province and that had some mayors in the region wanting to see the tax increase drop below two per cent and others advocating giving taxpayers a break.
“I can’t find one damn dollar (that’s been cut),” said Bradford West Gwillimbury Deputy Mayor James Leduc. “The impact on our residents is great, with hydro going up and fuel going up. I’m disappointed (we) couldn’t find one dollar to take out.”
Ramara Mayor Basil Clarke had suggested the county not create a $400,000 contingency reserve for long-term care. “I just don’t believe we should be putting money away preparing for the province to shortchange us,” Clarke said.
Yet council agreed with Clearview Township Deputy Mayor Barry Burton reminded his colleagues of the staffing challenge the county faced earlier this year that resulted from grant cuts. “It’s an important issue. We have this money put aside for our long-term care facilities, It’s important. I go back to my Boy Scout days of being prepared.”
Oro-Medonte Deputy Mayor Ralph Hough added he hears from residents struggling with the basic costs of living, including many seniors struggling to stay in their homes.
“There’s only one taxpayer. There are people in our township who live in mobile home parks who are struggling to pay the mortgage and rent and we put money into frills,” said Hough. “We have to start looking at helping those people and not putting money into just in case (reserve funds). There are hospitals and schools and other non-mandated services (that are being funded as well).”
CAO Mark Aitken noted that rising fuel and hydro costs are hitting the county as well, along with rising labour costs. The county is also expanding supports required in long-term care homes.
“We have behavioural opportunities to deal with in our long-term care homes (such as aggression and safety related to dementia). It’s very difficult when council talks about mandated and non-mandated (services),” Aitken said.
The budget at a glance:
$53.5 million for paramedic services: 8.8 per cent increase in calls in2016; $5.6 million new station in Orillia
$66.3 million for transportation and engineering: includes inter-municipal transit system phase-in over five years; 70 km of roads and six bridges to be reconstructed, including County Road 90 (between Barrie and Angus)
$48.4 million for solid waste management: incuding work on the Environmental Recovery Resource Centre (organics and materials sorting in Springwater Township)
$61 million for social housing: including expansion in Collingwood
$53.5 million for seniors and long-term care services
$44.2 million for children and community services
$76.1 million for Ontario works
$4.5 million for Hwy. 400/Innisfil line 5 interchange
$4.3 million for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit
$3 million for hospitals’ capital projects
$1.5 million for post-secondary capital project grants