Increased spending on police, social housing and paramedic services will see Region of Waterloo residents pay another $96 a year in property taxes in 2022 under a budget approved last week. That’s an increase of 4.56 per cent.
That tax hit is based on an average home with an assessed value of just $354,500, with 3.3 per cent going to regional services and a 1.26 per cent for police. Regional council approved a 2022 police budget increase of $10.4 million, or 5.6 per cent, despite calls for larger cuts to help pay for other social services.
The region is still increasing its social spend, however, particularly on housing.
Tax-supported program spending will surpass $1 billion – $1,003,337,000, up from 2021’s $977,958 – in an operating budget that’s grown by 2.6 per cent. It’s committed more than $150 million to housing initiatives, helping to build 2,500 affordable homes in five years while improving shelter capacity for the homeless.
There’s also considerable new spending for diversity and equity programs, including another $10 million for programs aimed at Indigenous, Black, African, Caribbean, racialized and other marginalized communities.
As in past years, the region is also spending more on transit, despite falling ridership numbers.
While most taxpayers won’t see direct benefits, particularly in the townships, there’s a social-good component to the 2022 budget, says Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz.
“Some it is obviously going into the cost of roads and all of that. Some of it is going into policing. Some of its going into climate action, and some of its going into housing. Some of its going into social issues like equity, diversity and inclusion and providing resources in that area,” she said of the increased spending planned for 2022, noting what individual taxpayers get out of that is a matter of opinion.
“I guess that depends on your own personal point of view whether you think those things are important or not right. There’s some people that would feel like any one of those are important, then there are some people who would feel like any one of those is really not important. We do our best to try to balance all of that.”
She noted that spending was scaled back through the budget deliberations, pointing to lowering transit increases by scaling back service to 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak notes residents of his township aren’t on the hook for some of the costs, including transit, but the budget process involved a great deal of back-and forth, particularly on the police budget.
“There’s some give and take on those discussions. I know the upstream initiatives that Coun. (Tom) Galloway and others were advocating for, some of that was approved,” he said of calls for more social services funding rather than more police spending. “It was balanced, they found a way to balance that. A little bit of give and take.”
Other expenditures include $2.5 million for climate action, with plans to renew facilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and track fleet emissions. Also on the list is increasing paramedic services by adding two fully staffed ambulances while expanding community paramedicine, leading to a budget hike of 8.4 per cent to $48.8 million from $45 million.