Proposed regional budget could push up taxes
Waterloo Region councillors went line by line through the full proposed 2012 budget on Wednesday, evaluating the 1.2 per cent property tax increase requested by regional staff.
Staff is asking for a $4-million increase to the $381-million budget for 2012 to keep the region running smoothly, and hopes to capitalize on a few extra fees.
Area EMS is among those asking for a slight increase, as the region's ambulances are increasingly stuck waiting to unload patients at area hospitals.
John Prno, director of Waterloo Region EMS, says "Obviously the more ambulances we have on offload delay the fewer we have available to provide service out on the streets."
Those delays have pushed the region's response times to a full two minutes above the legislated provincial average.
And that's why Prno is asking council for an extra 5.5 employees, enough to fully staff an ambulance for 12 hours.
However, Regional Chair Ken Seiling says more money won't necessarily solve the EMS problems.
"We can't just buy an unlimited number of ambulances and staff them with unlimited numbers of paramedics from problems that are in the hospital system or other places, so we've got to find that balance."
While the budget may not be completely balanced, councillors say it is close, with staff proposing fees to boost revenue on top of the 1.2 per cent increase to regional property taxes.
That includes a proposed $2 surcharge for using the city's landfill and an airport carrier landing fee. Those revenue sources could bring the region more than $500,000.
"Staff have done a lot of work, a lot of cutting back. There's very little new things in the budget this year," Seiling says.
A second budget deliberation is set for Dec. 14, where the police chief will present his proposed budget.
Proposed 2012 police budget a big one
The proposed Waterloo Regional Police Service budget is $118 million and calls for an eight per cent increase in spending.
But that proposal doesn't include the call to hire 62 new employees, including 30 new officers, 22 civilian staff and 10 court staff.
If the proposed new hirings are included the budget jumps to around $127 million, and that could push property tax bills up by 1.65 percent.
The service appears to be trying to catch up when it comes to staffing. In March the police chief asked for approval for 60 new officers to improve response times and prevent crime.
But only half that number was approved, and that will end up costing $2.5 million annually, or over $21 per year for the average taxpayer.
While it is unlikely, if the 2012 budget is approved as is taxpayers can expect to pay more.
Tom Galloway, chair of the Waterloo Regional Police Board, says this is the first time in his memory the tax rate impact of the police budget could be higher than the region's impact.
But he adds city staff will work hard to keep the property tax increase as low as possible.
"The assessment is the lowest it's been in a number of years and it's going against us. We have an economy that is still very sluggish. A lot of people are unemployed. This may not be the year to expand the police service in any major way."
A final decision is expected to be made by the region early next year.