Algonquin Highlands ratepayers will see a 4.98 per cent levy increase in 2021 following two days of council budget talks Feb. 22-23.

Treasurer Jean Hughes said it equated to a $273,000 increase. She added that $134,000 of that, or nearly half, is going into reserves for future projects.

On average, it amounts to about a $12.50 per $100,000 assessment increase for residential taxpayers, or a 3.89 per cent tax rate increase.

The township began budget discussions with a starting point of a 4.19 per cent levy hike.

However, deputy mayor Liz Danielsen said she would be comfortable with increasing the levy by a small amount to top up reserves.

“I would like to see us increase the levy … I think we’re in a good position to be able to add another one per cent,” she said. Hughes had earlier asked councillors to consider creating an infrastructure reserve.

She singled out adding money for the Dorset Tower ($40,000), docks and landings ($40,000) and the asset management plan (54,000) to land council where it did.

Mayor Carol Moffatt told The Highlander, “councillors chose to raise the levy rather than cut projects or services, and the increase wasn’t made or taken lightly. There’s a lot of growth in the county and AH is feeling the impact of that. The community is changing quickly and we need to stay ahead of that.”

The budget will be passed via bylaw at the March 18 meeting.

Hughes added in her budget report that during the past year, the township faced many challenges due to the pandemic, including facility closures, staff layoffs (particularly for parks, recreation and trails), program cancellations for residents and training and conference cancellations for staff, some project deferrals, and various staffing vacancies for longer than anticipated.

She said as a result, the township realized a significant operating surplus at year end and it had been transferred to the various department reserves to fund future capital projects.

Hughes said the township also received an additional $91,400 in OMPF funding for 2021 and realized reduced policing costs (two per cent) to save an additional $23,000.

She said the 2021 budget reflects new expenditures, including hiring a communications coordinator for a one-year term at an estimated $30,000. They’ll hire seasonal operators for public works and maintenance, estimated at $60,000. An added seasonal trails position to assist with increased patronage is estimated at $30,000.

Hughes said various projects planned for landfill locations, plus increased costs for haulage, have resulted in significant increases for the waste division overall, approximately $80,000.

The township also plans to spend $6,000 in improvements at Elvin Johnson park and greenspace improvements and rear entrance maintenance at Oxtongue Lake Community Centre ($7,600).

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