Day one of the 2018 budget deliberations at the Chatham-Kent Civic Centre council chambers. January 30, 2018. (Photo by Sarah Cowan Blackburn News Chatham-Kent).

CK Council Cuts Proposed Tax Hike

The 2018 budget deliberations have officially kicked off in Chatham-Kent and councillors have managed to bring down the proposed tax hike to 1.72%.

Day one of the budget deliberations was held at the Chatham-Kent Civic Centre Monday evening. Prior to deliberations, the municipality was looking at a 2.27% increase for this year’s budget.

Budget Chair Derek Robertson says proposed tax hike has been lowered 0.5% so far. This means the average ratepayer will be looking at an approximate $48 extra on an annual basis, compared to the previous proposal which equated to about $64 a year.

“I think that the budget committee is taking a duly-faceted approach, meaning that one — they’re deeply concerned about the services and the infrastructure that we must provision for our community and citizens, and two — that they’re also deeply concerned about the cost of those services to the ratepayers,” says Robertson.

Robertson says the most significant cut that contributed to the drop in the tax increase is winter control.

“We’ve deferred a decision on an addition of $500,000 annually to the winter control reserve to assist in salt coverage,” says Robertson. “However, even though we’ve been through a difficult winter, I don’t think anyone needs to be concerned about the quality of our snow removal in Chatham. We’ve done a good job this year and we’ve done a good job in years past.”

Robertson says the municipality’s financial team also learned that Chatham-Kent’s assessment growth is actually $150,000 higher than expected, which also helped to bring down the proposed tax increase.

“It’s always good to have greater assessment growth, however, $150,000 is well welcome. It’s going to make about one-tenth of 1% positive impact for the ratepayers,” says Robertson.

Councillor Doug Sulman fought for several cuts to a variety of proposed staffing additions at the budget deliberations, several of which were approved.

“The people who are in the heads of the departments certainly want them, but it’s an increase in government and we simply can’t afford it in a population that’s shrinking,” says Sulman. “We also have more and more people who are on fixed incomes, either through retirement or layoff.”

Sulman says if all of the cuts he proposed are approved, the municipality would save another $1-million in the 2018 budget, which could bring the tax hike down to 1% or less.

“I don’t mind if I don’t win every time, the important thing is to do the right thing and that’s what I’m here for,” says Sulman.

One increase in the budget, however, was an additional $535,493 in Chatham-Kent Police Service funding. Council approved a $31-million police budget, which is a 1.74% increase from 2017.

Police Chief Gary Conn says this year’s police budget has a 0.37% impact on the proposed tax hike.

The Chatham-Kent Police Service has 164 sworn officers and 65 civilian staff.

Robertson says he is pleased with how the first night of deliberations went.

“I thought that this was one of the better opening nights that we’ve had for our budget committee,” says Robertson.