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Halton Hills property taxes hiked average $118 - New pumper truck for Acton Fire Hall

Halton Hills' budget committee presented their 2021 budget at a ZOOM meeting on Monday, asking for a property tax hike of almost 4 percent. Mayor Rick Bonnette, citing the extraordinary circumstance of the world-wide pandemic, asserted that “the 2021 Budget is appropriately modest, manageable and realistic with a 3.97 percent increase; an investment that allows the Town to maintain service levels and critical infrastructure.”


The average residential property in Halton Hills is assessed at $623,000 according to MPAC’s 2016 CVA. Thus, Halton Hills residents can expect to see an average increase of $118 in their property taxes for 2021.


Chris Mills, acting CAO and commissioner of corporate services, added that the 3.97 percent increase is consistent with the Town's Long Range Financial Plan. “As you can appreciate, the pandemic placed unforeseen fiscal demands on the Town requiring investments in facilities and equipment and unanticipated expenses as we implemented changes to our operations,” said Mills.


“The Town’s focus has been on maintaining cash flow while managing these new and unpredictable expenses along with increases in non-discretionary items and accommodating lower than anticipated development charge revenue and assessment growth.”


Although Halton Hills is taking on no new debt, Town Treasurer and Director of Accounting Moya Leighton referred to three areas where the Town is facing financial challenges: insurance premiums are estimated to rise in 2021 by 40 percent or about $311,000; a significant reduction in ice rental revenue (11.8 percent decrease in revenue); adjustment in fire dispatch costs pegged at $100,000. (26.7 percent increase over 2019

costs).


“The global insurance market has hardened,” she said, citing inflation, increasing claims and a more litigious society as some of the factors. In future, Leighton hopes to settle more of the insurance claims in-house and the Town has engaged a broker to do so.


One of the biggest items in the capital budget is $850,000 set aside for the replacement of Acton fire station's ageing pumper truck. The old truck is a 2001 Freightliner Dependable that has reached the end of its service life expectancy. Not surprisingly, the Fire Service operating budget is among the largest departmental increase at 6.9 percent or $504,100 over last year. Of that amount, $376,800 represents increased wages,

benefits and compensation for the current staff complement. As mentioned above, another large proportional increase of $100,000 will go to the Town's fire dispatch services run through the City of Burlington.


Acton and area residents will be happy to see funds allotted for local road construction, including resurfacing the pock-marked Third Line north from Acton town limits to 32 Sideroad. This is a joint project with the Region, deferred since 2019, and will include the installation of water mains. As well, construction will continue on Young Street at Eastern Avenue and Queen Street running east to the intersection of Churchill Road,

and a stop light will be installed at Queen Street at Acton Blvd to replace the existing cross-walk. The intersection of Glen Lawson and Third Line is slated for a re-design, and lastly, in 2021 Acton will get its first rainbow cross-walk at River Road and Main Street North.


The budget committee also received presentations from several delegations including the Halton Environmental Network, and the Acton and Georgetown BIAs. Patricia Daleman, representing the Acton BIA, mentioned a number of initiatives and “pivots” that her board has made, including a virtual Leathertown Festival, Ghost Walk, BAM event, and a successful 2020 farmer's market. Acton BIA is asking for $96,970 for

operating costs, the same amount as last year.

At 404 pages, the committee's budget and business plan is a huge sprawling document, including charts, columns, graphs and tables, as well as numerous appendices. Although each department talked about the pandemic effect on their operations, ie: working from home and developing online training programs, COVID is not directly factored in any of the budget considerations. Rather, the costs associated with the pandemic will

be tracked and calculated separately, according to treasurer Moya Leighton.


But the budget presentation is also an opportunity for all the department heads and their teams to shine, a chance to explain their programs and various initiatives, and a chance for councillors to ask questions and comment. Mark Covert, director of public works, announced that his department will buying their first electric vehicle in 2020, and that this is “an area that we should be able to move into in the next couple of

years.” Councillor Clark Somerville praised the work Recreation and Parks had done with the snapping turtle nesting boxes in Acton, and suggested signage might have to be included with the boxes next year.


The meeting ran over three hours, but there was a clear sense that most of the budget details had been worked out --there certainly wasn't any heated debate. The budget was approved by the committee and is expected to be ratified at the last Town Council meeting of the year on Dec. 14.




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