By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
Noting that this was an unusual year, Chatham-Kent’s council narrowly passed its budget with a minor tax hike.
On Wednesday night, after four nights of deliberation and three virtual community consultation sessions, council approved the 2021 budget at a 2.4 per cent tax increase. The original proposal by staff called for a 3.96 per cent increase and the Chatham-Kent Police Service budget added another 1.1 per cent.
“In addition to our regular challenges, we have also needed to consider the uncertainties and economic consequences of COVID,” said Chatham-Kent CAO Don Shropshire. “This is likely or arguably the most challenging budget deliberation we’ve had over 10 years.”
The majority of the budget increase is directly related to infrastructure, which Shropshire said is important because the municipality owns approximately $4 billion in physical assets.
“Every year, we’re projecting that we should be investing $90 million just to maintain our existing physical assets, just to keep things in the same condition they were to keep repairs going. Every year right now we’re investing about $53 million, which leaves us with a $40 million shortfall,” he said.
Shropshire said for the past several years, council has been closing the gap. In 2021, Chatham-Kent will be spending 5.21 per cent on its infrastructure maintenance.
The total budget is $334 million.
East Kent Coun. Steve Pinsonneault successfully passed a motion that $300,000 be removed from base budget at staff discretion as to which department to remove it from without affecting services, or service levels.
“Every year we have surpluses of a million plus… which we turn around and we use in some spots like winter maintenance but mostly it goes into reserves again. Our reserves now are high and I think this is just a great way to knock some money off the budget,” Pinsonneault said.
The motion was later tweaked by Mayor Darrin Canniff by requesting that the cuts come from the Strategic Development Reserve and that staff come back in the fall with permanent savings found through service reviews.
The vote to pass the budget was done by roll call. Councillors who opposed approving the budget were West Kent Coun. Mark Authier, Chatham councillors Michael Bondy, Amy Finn, and Doug Sulman, South Kent Coun. Anthony Ceccacci, North Kent Coun. Jamie McGrail, and East Kent councillors John Wright and Pinsonneault.
The average household will incur an extra $71 per year.