26 Jan Proposed 2024 tax increase now at 8.5 per cent for Stratford
By Amanda Modaragamage
After continued budget deliberations on Jan 15, councillors have managed to bring Stratford’s proposed 2024 tax-rate increase down to 8.5 per cent.
Stratford mayor Martin Ritsma said he and his fellow council members are not in a rush to sign off on the 2024 budget just yet, noting he wants to take the time to get it right.
“Let’s continue to work with an open mind and an open heart,” he said. “I have referred to this work as a process. I am proud of that process. We are not in a hurry to get the process done. Let’s continue this process and take the time required to do it right.”
The Stratford mayor also notes that he recognizes the concerns raised by residents and small businesses in Stratford but also notes that housing density plays a factor.
“We know that increased tax growth moving forward will come from both residential and industrial growth. The increased tax through residential growth can certainly be enhanced through increased housing density.”
All councillors seemed to feel the burden of their 2024 budget decisions. Mayor Ritsma said he’s proud of their work thus far, highlighting the importance of council hearing resident concerns.
“I am proud of the budget process thus far. It has involved staff, council and input from residents, many emails, telephone calls and meetings with residents, staff and councillors.
“We need to respect our residents and the budget needs to reflect long and short-term affordability. We know that the residents and businesses continue to feel the impact of the pandemic, high inflation and increased interest rates. Knowing this, this budget deliberation may require us to defer certain capital items, knowing that it will come with risks, which will be discussed here today,” Ritsma said.
Councillor Mark Hunter also addressed the city and staff as chair of the finance and labour relations committee – the committee of council that oversees budget deliberations and will recommend final approval of the draft 2024 budget to council once the majority of members are satisfied with it. Hunter said he too feels the burden of a high tax increase but recognizes that services cost money and the province also mandates some.
“This document contains the list of services the city provides our residents. Some of those services are things that our residents have asked for, and some of them are things that the province of Ontario mandates we provide,” he said, “We only have one source of money to run the city, and that source of money is you, our residents.”
As he discussed the current proposed tax rate, Hunter said he understands the pressures this budget will put on the public as he too is a resident of Stratford.
“A 8.5 per-cent increase is still a big number. Several of us [councillors] are also business owners in the community and none of us are excited about paying more, either. Unfortunately, there’s only one way to reduce costs. Reduce, eliminate, or postpone services; there’s no other option.”
Though council shut down conversations around the controversial Xinyi glass plant in 2022, Hunter noted large businesses like that one could have substantially reduced the cost on taxpayers.
“Another thing we can do is change our tax base by bringing more business taxpayers into the community. Businesses pay a slightly higher rate than residents and use fewer services,” he said. “For example, had that glass plant being built here, the budget would not require a 8.5 per-cent increase. It would require a 4.3 per-cent increase.”
“I’m not trying to suggest that was the right project for Stratford, but it does illustrate the impact businesses can have in our community.”
The budget meeting concluded with residents and small business owners voicing their concerns about the proposed 8.5 per-cent tax hike. Stratford council has yet to book a follow-up meeting sometime next month to continue budget deliberations.