Essex County residents will be facing a tax increase of 4.95 per cent this year.
The county passed its 2024 budget Wednesday evening, with the net operating requirement for the county finalized at $132,282,190 — which is roughly $8.6 million more than last year's budget.
The tax increase translates into $25.55 for every $100,000 a property is assessed.
In the penultimate motion of budget deliberations on Wednesday evening, which began in a dedicated meeting a week earlier, Essex County Council decided by a 9-5 vote to withdraw $403,000 from its Rate Stabilization Reserve to help avoid a larger tax increase.
This was the recommendation put forward by the county's administration in response to a motion from council to try and reduce the increase from 5.27 per cent — which is where talks ended last week — to 4.95 per cent.
"When looking at options to provide to council…to find $403,000 worth of savings, administration did weigh the risk of cutting operating and capital expenses," said Sandra Zwiers, the county's chief administrative officer.
"Given the persistent pressures on inflation, the demands for our service, the desire to maintain existing levels of service and maintain quality of service, administration does not recommend cuts to operating and/or capital (expenses) to achieve a 4.95 per cent tax rate increase."
In the end, there were no cuts to expenses — despite some council members suggesting that when talks began.
Those councillors argued that instead of pulling money from the reserve, alternative places in the budget could be found to make cuts and drop the tax increase.
Sandra Zwiers, the chief administrative officer of the County of Essex, discussing the county's proposed 2024 budget on Jan. 10, 2024. (County of Essex)
"I don't like the rate stabilization method because we did that last year," said Kirk Walstedt, deputy mayor of Lakeshore.
"It was a stopgap measure for last year and here we're looking at doing it again. It always comes back to bite you in the future: How do we put that (amount) back in the future?"
Lakeshore Mayor Tracey Bailey, meanwhile, submitted a motion to pull $1.2 million from the reserve to drop the tax rate even further to 4.32 per cent.
Many council members were not in favour of that, including Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy.
"I got my head wrapped around the $403,000, but the $1.2 million; I think that is a lot," Bondy said.
"I was trying to think, if I (had) made that move and pulled reserves in Essex for a budget — I don't think I would do that. I think my staff would be pulling me in the back room and chastising me."
Bailey's motion was defeated by an 11-3 margin.
Here are the highlights of this year's budget:
As part of the approved budget, the county will be spending $93.8 million on roads, with key infrastructure projects for 2024 including the addition of a roundabout to the intersection of County Roads 42 and 43, just off the Windsor International Airport, as well as improvement of a small stretch of Manning Road in Tecumseh.
Roughly $16.1 million in total will be spent on improving the county's emergency services. This will be used to hire 16 paramedics, as well as replace eight ambulances and 44 automated CPR devices.
The boost to Essex-Windsor EMS comes after the county grappled with multiple Code Red and Code Black situations last year. Code Red refers to times when there are fewer than two ambulances available to respond to incoming calls for service. Code Black is when there are no ambulances available.
The Sun Parlor Long Term Care Home will be receiving about $14.1 million to help increase staffing hours and duration of direct care for residences.
Approximately $1 million will be spent this year, and again next year, to help build 36 "tiny homes" in partnership with The Bridge youth centre in Leamington. Additionally, $2.05 million will be spent on the county's affordable housing stock.
Another $6.36 million payment will be made to the county's reserve fund for the new Windsor Regional Hospital, which puts the fund's total at $50 million.
The Essex County Library has been allocated $6.7 million, part of which will be used to expand the hours of the Harrow branch, in response to increased demand.