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Essex County Council looks to reduce financial impact on residents

Updated: Jan 16

It was a marathon session in Essex last Wednesday night as Essex County council weeded its way through the proposed 2024 budget.

After nearly six hours of deliberation, county council could not come to a final decision. The current increase to taxpayers is 6.13 percent but the Administration has been directed to trim that down to 4.95 by this Wednesday (January 17).

“All of you know at your local levels, know that this has not been an easy year to prepare a budget,” said Essex County CAO Sandra Zwiers.

One of the hiccups in the process, which began in July, was when Zwiers moved from being the director of financial services/treasurer into the CAO’s chair. Melissa Ryan is now in charge of the county’s finances.

 “It’s tough times but on the flip side, it’s exciting times. We’ve approved our first ever strategic plan and we are on the cusp of some really, really great things,” said Zwiers.

Essex County’s proposed budget is $157,169,120, up from the previous year of $146,447,460. Ryan noted in her overview presentation, that there are numerous factors for the increase of $10.7 million.

“Some common contributions to the increase across the board includes contractual wage increases, significant health benefit increases from Green Shield as well as OMERS (pension) contributions. Our part-time employees are now eligible,” said Ryan.

Breaking down the budget, 39 per cent of the overall operating expenses goes to infrastructure and planning services. That department could see an increase from $49.3 million up to $52 million. Factored in, among other things, are the CWATS Master Plan and the Transportation Plan.

“The goal of infrastructure services is to execute to a level to maintain infrastructure in a state of good repair,” explained director Allan Botham. “We strive to deliver timely and quality services that adapts to changing cultures and challenges.”

There have been a lot of challenges facing the county and local municipal governments when it comes to budgets.

In her opening remarks to county council, Ryan noted that there was a new layer to the process this year which involved each department having the opportunity to view each other’s final numbers. She also said that the volatile inflation puts a financial strain on the county.

Outside of the infrastructure and planning, external Commitments take 27 per cent of the overall budget and some of those commitments are mandatory and legislated by the province. There is a proposed 6.8 per cent jump from $34,352,060 up to 36,096,460 which includes a social housing agreement with the City of Windsor.

Community services/residential services could see a whopping increase of 35.9 per cent which includes a commitment to the Bridge Supporting Housing project. In 2023 the budget for this department was $563,050 which could be increased to $764,930.

The Sun Parlour Home could see an increase of 17.74 percent up to $14,190.040 from $12,052.500. Emergency services could go up 7.80 per cent and Library Services are looking at a 12.5 percent jump. General government services has the smallest departmental budget which is asking for a 3.8 percent hike.

By Fred Groves

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