No matter where you live in Essex County, you're paying more municipal taxes this year.
All seven of the municipalities under the County of Essex have proposed or finalized budgets with tax increases for 2024, ranging from 8.2 per cent in the Town of Kingsville to 3.8 per cent in the Town of Leamington.
A diagram showing the tax increases for 2024 in each of the seven municipalities under the County of Essex. (CBC News)
Last week, the Town of Amherstburg passed its 2024 budget with a 6.44 per cent tax increase — one of the highest in the County of Essex.
Road and facility improvements, investment in firefighting services, and addressing deficit were among the reasons cited by the majority of council members who approved the budget.
"This has been a very tough year," said Amherstburg Mayor Michael Prue at the Jan. 29 council meeting. "The difficult choice was made."
Amherstburg resident Donna Hibbert speaks with CBC Windsor while members of the Amherstburg Residents Forum look on. (Dalson Chen/CBC)
It's a town council decision that doesn't sit well with Amherstburg resident Donna Hibbert, who spoke at the meeting as a public delegation.
"I feel it's way too high, and I feel (the money) is being misappropriated," Hibbert told CBC Windsor.
"I see a lot of people, and I know that they are struggling now — between groceries, gas, everything else. We need to take care of needs, not wants."
Members of the Amherstburg Residents Forum meet to talk about their municipality's 6.44 per cent tax increase for 2024. (Dalson Chen/CBC)
Hibbert is part of a crowd of seniors who frequent a Facebook group called Amherstburg Residents Forum.
Fellow community member Del Oxford also finds Amherstburg's tax increase difficult to swallow. "It's the timing. This is not the financial time to be spending that kind of money," he said.
"(Council is) pulling some money out of our reserves to do some projects that we could well live without."
"There are people hanging on by their fingernails today. I don't know what they're going to do when the tax bill comes through."
Amherstburg resident Del Oxford speaks with CBC Windsor. (Dalson Chen/CBC)
Although the Town of Kingsville has a higher tax increase than Amherstburg when expressed as a percentage — 8.2 per cent — Kingsville Mayor Dennis Rogers has argued that Kingsville's tax increase is better expressed as a dollar figure, amounting to $156 per $250,000 of assessed home value.
That's a figure comparable to how many more property tax dollars Tecumseh homeowners will be paying in 2024, despite the Town of Tecumseh's tax increase being among the lowest in the region at 4.2 per cent.
"In that regard, mayor Rogers is correct," said Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara. "It's not apples to apples."
Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara reflects on his town's 4.2 per cent tax increase for 2024. (Dalson Chen/CBC)
But McNamara said all municipalities are facing the same dilemma: Fulfilling responsibilities and service expectations that inevitably have increasing costs — from infrastructure and capital projects to snow removal and park care.
"There are areas in the budget that we have no control over," McNamara said. "We call them non-controllable inflationary increases."
The fact that the Town of Tecumseh has kept its operating budget increase to 1.77 per cent — well below Canada's rate of inflation, which was 3.4 per cent in December — is a sign of a "well-managed corporation," McNamara said.
County of Essex council chambers. (County of Essex)
But all county residents are also facing a tax increase at the regional level of government: The County of Essex is increasing county taxes by 4.95 per cent for 2024, as decided by county council in January.
Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy said she understands that residents are being hit with a double whammy of taxes. But she pointed to the county investing in essential "big ticket items," such as bolstering Essex-Windsor EMS: The county will be hiring 16 more paramedics this year.
"When our chief of EMS says we need more paramedics because of Code Blacks, is it worth it? Yes, I think so," Bondy said.
Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy speaks with CBC Windsor about her municipality's 4.46 per cent tax increase for 2024. (Dalson Chen/CBC)
Meanwhile, the Town of Essex settled its budget with a 4.46 per cent tax increase.
"A lot of people expect town halls to have zero per cent increases and to not ever raise the budget. But town halls have a business to run as well," Bondy said.
"We have to provide services. We have employees that work for us. Our employees deserve good-paying jobs. We do quality work, and if you want to get roads done, if you want to retain employees — this is the cost of doing business."
But such pleas for understanding might not placate the members of the Amherstburg Residents Forum, who continue to share their complaints with each other over coffee.
"I mean, everybody likes for our town to grow, and to enhance tourism, and all the rest of it," said Amherstburg homeowner Geoff Hibbert. "But there's a time and a place. And this year was definitely not the time."
Amherstburg resident Geoff Hibbert speaks with CBC Windsor. (Dalson Chen/CBC)
The Municipality of Lakeshore is the only community under the County of Essex that has yet to finalize its budget.
Lakeshore council is set for budget discussions next week. The municipality's draft budget proposes a 6.23 per cent tax increase.
Last week, the City of Windsor finalized its 2024 budget with a 3.91 per cent increase in taxes.
Members of the Amherstburg Residents Forum discuss their municipality's 6.44 per cent tax increase for 2024. (Dalson Chen/CBC)