Highlands East council approved its budget March 2 with a 2.23 per cent increase to its portion of the tax rate.

Council reviewed its final budget, which is expected to be formalized with a bylaw March 9. It amounts to approximately $184,000 more in tax revenue than budgeted in 2020. The increase will add $11.04 to residential tax bills per $100,000 of assessment value.

Coun. Suzanne Partridge praised the budget and the efforts of CAO Shannon Hunter.

“I know it’s been very challenging and taken you days and days and weeks and hours of work,” Partridge said. “You’ve done an excellent job, that we haven’t had to go back and forth.”

The budget features several new capital projects, including $1.4 million for the South Wilberforce Bridge project principally funded through grants, $385,000 for a Cardiff Pool repair with $200,000 carried forward from the 2020 budget and an additional $148,487 in parks for the Herlihey Park and a new tractor.

For the park improvement project, Hunter said planning has occupied a lot of time. She said staff hope to have the park completed this year and may put it out to tender if the work cannot be done internally. At a minimum, she said the park’s parking lot and walking trails would be finished in 2021.

The municipality is also spending approximately $50,000 to add a junior planning position. The department has seen an increase in revenue, offset by rising costs. It currently uses a third-party planner, but Hunter said it is hoped a new staff member could help process applications more efficiently and handle work currently divided among three other staff members.

Deputy mayor Cec Ryall said Highlands East needs the planner given the volume of people moving into the area from cities.

“We’re going to end up with a lot more people applying for a lot more stuff up here,” he said. “I firmly believe it’s something we have to do.”

The municipality is also budgeting an additional $30,000 in wages and benefits for its roads department as it hires for public works supervisor and roads operation manager positions.

Other noted expenses included $40,900 for municipal office maintenance and $25,000 for a County-wide climate initiative to add electric vehicle charging stations.

Ryall said the 2.23 per cent tax rate increase puts the municipality in an “awesome position.”

“It doesn’t sound like we’ve compromised anything,” Ryall said.

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