On January 29, Grey County Council, sitting as Committee of the Whole, supported the draft 2021 budget. A County tax rate increase of 2.11% is needed on a total operating and capital budget of $171.2 million. This equals an average increase per single-detached household of $24.93.
“The 2021 budget is responsive to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the needs of the community. Service levels are being maintained in most departments with additional resources supporting important priorities, such as affordable housing, transportation infrastructure, rural transportation and other areas,” said Grey County Warden Selwyn ‘Buck’ Hicks.
The most notable new item in the 2021 budget is a $1.11 million investment to create an affordable housing fund on the recommendation of the Affordable Housing Task Force. The amount is equal to $500,000, plus the equivalent of 1% levy. The task force recommended including 1% in the budget each year to continue growing the fund which will support land purchases and affordable housing builds. Council chose to pay the 1% in 2021 from one-time reserves.
“Affordable housing continues to be a real challenge. County Council is taking action to ensure individuals and families in Grey will have more access to safe and affordable homes,” said Warden Hicks. “We still have a lot of work ahead, but this is a massive step forward.”
In addition to establishing the Affordable Housing Fund, the budget also includes an investment of $3.7 million towards 49 housing capital projects throughout the County and administering $3.8 million from the Canada Ontario Community Housing Initiative and Ontario Priorities Housing Initiative to support an affordable housing build by the Owen Sound Housing Company.
Council also supported continuing the annual 1% increase to the transportation budget as recommended in the asset management plan. These funds allow the County to keep up with the cost of maintaining our road infrastructure.
The 2021 budget also contains municipal tax support for the operation of the Grey Road 4 route of the Grey Transit Route between Flesherton and Walkerton. This busy corridor is not included in the Provincial funding for the Community Transportation project. Council believes it is an important route for residents without reliable access to transportation.
Also in the 2021 budget is funding to offset and react to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly $2 million is budgeted to support increased spending for staffing and equipment (including PPE) to support infection control, screening and testing. The largest expenditure will be in long-term care. Other County services, such as Paramedics, along with maintenance and cleaning across all services, especially in affordable housing will benefit from support for continued precautions.
“The measures needed to respond to COVID-19 are substantial and action needs to be taken by all levels of government to ensure our communities are protected. While additional funding from upper levels of government is likely, we need to be vigilant in our planning to ensure we have the resources ready to go if and when they are needed,” said Warden Hicks.
Grey County will undertake several plans and studies in 2021 to help inform future policy and decisions. Some of the budgeted projects include an Age-Friendly Community Strategic Plan, a review of development charges, building and facility condition assessments and updating the Corporate Communications Strategy.
Even during the pandemic, and possibly because of it, Grey County continues to be an attractive area for growth and development. Estimated new assessment revenue of $1.24 million is included in the budget. This growth helps meet levy requirements but also puts more demand on services.
A summary of the 2021 budget and a full detailed package are available online at www.Grey.ca/budget. The budget will be before Grey County Council again on February 11 for official approval.
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