Last Thursday Council approved the final levy budget which will be ratified at Council on Thursday, December 14th. Once ratified this will set the property tax rates for the upcoming year for the Regional portion. The overall bill actually includes a blended rate for both the Region and the Town. The draft budget landed on 7.02%.
A budget overview was presented at the beginning of the meeting summarizing all of the pressures and factors that is incorporated into the levy. If you would like to more fully understand the budget for next year, I highly recommend watching the 35 minute staff presentation from 0:45:30 to 1:20:00.
Agenda contents and reports can be found at the following link. The levy budget is listed under item 5.2 CSD 54-2023: https://pub-niagararegion.escribemeetings.com/Meeting.aspx?Id=401f3f55-5a2b-404d-90ad-530827f81810&Agenda=Merged&lang=English&Item=18&Tab=attachments
View the Budget Presentation
Explanation of Budget Components:
- Regional Departments – This budget is put together by Regional staff then reviewed and approved directly by Regional Council.
- Boards & Commissions determined separate Boards but approved by Regional Council:
- Niagara Regional Police Service (NRPS) – reviewed and approved by the NPRS Board.
- Niagara Regional Housing – reviewed and approved by the NRH Board.
- Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) – reviewed and approved by the NPCA Board.
- Court Services – Put forward by Joint Management Board.
- Additional pressures or priority funding asks.
- Assessment Growth – Resulting from the addition of new ratepayers/new homes (growth) which reduces the overall levy.
Adjustments made by Council are items that were originally cut from the budget that Council decided should be added back in including a low-income funeral fund and also funds that are used in collaboration with our local municipalities to support shop local or local business promotion.
The overall concern for Council was taxpayer affordability balanced with our ability to meet our demand for services. The budget was first presented back in July at 9%. By October, the budget was estimated to be as much as 10.7%. I believe most of Council felt this was not a realistic number for taxpayers. After receiving many detailed presentations and details on budget spending, Council turned back nearly every budget put forward for additional savings. This resulted in a reduced request across the organization and also a reduction to the NRPS budget.
Key factors creating pressure on the budget:
- Provincial decisions (Bill 23) continue to have a significant impact (including an $8 million levy plus $600,000 we took off our reserve account with a cost equaling 1.95%). Had these changes not been implemented, or had the municipalities been made “whole” as promised, then the levy would come in closer to 5%.
- The Niagara Regional Police (NRPS) budget continues to be the largest and most impacting budget item affecting the levy and accounts for 2.4% of the entire budget increase. Changes to the NRPS budget largely focuses on addressing staffing pressures. This year staffing pressures were created pertaining to PTSD leave and more officers utilizing parental leave. This combined with a few new initiatives, such as direct support for Opiod Enforcement and Education, are driving the bulk of the cost for their budget.
- The Region’s Department budget does include 81 new staff members. However, these are nearly fully funded (80.1 are funded) due to internal staffing changes and provincial funding. The bulk of the Provincially funded positions will go towards long-term care staffing that has resulted from changes in Provincial legislation decreasing the required ratio of staff to residents. So despite the increases in staff, they are not creating additional costs for the organization.
- Provincial funding for some Public Health servicing has been frozen. This is problematic because it does not take into account inflationary pressures. As a result, cost of living increases or inflation can erode the overall value of funding. As a result, we have to either add these costs to the levy or cut back on services that are supposed to be 100% provincially funded.
- We continue to struggle to keep up with our infrastructure renewal needs combined with the demand for new infrastructure to support growth. An additional 1.5% was added to the budget this year to try to catch up on projects, however staff had originally asked for a 2.5% increase for this purpose which was reduced due to taxpayer affordability concerns. It’s important to note that new growth can result in assessment growth, which can reduce the overall levy. However, this new growth should leverage intensification where ever possible knowing that it results in a lower overall infrastructure cost compared to new growth resulting from sprawl. It’s a smarter and more efficient investment of infrastructure dollars.
- We are continuing to rely disproportionately on our reserves, which has allowed us to cushion the impact of levy increases in past years. We will need a plan to reinvest back in these funds in order to responsibly manage the organization and cushion future cost pressures that continue to challenge the organization.
You can find more coverage of the 2024 budget via the Standard at: