Essex County budget focuses on new hospital, roads and development

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Windsor Star/Sharon Hill

 

Essex County council passed its budget Wednesday night with a levy increase under one per cent.

The budget supports a new hospital, includes road and trail improvements, increases funding for regional economic development and adds a planner and a new deputy clerk.

The total county levy of $109.7 million includes about $5.25 million for the proposed new regional hospital. Last year, the county set aside $3.89 million for the project.

“We are committed to quality health care for Essex County residents and investing this money sends a strong signal to the provincial government that we are more than ready for a state-of-the-art regional hospital,” Essex County Warden and Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara said in a news release.

“It’s time to get shovels in the ground.”

The county tax increase of 0.90 per cent will mean an additional $8.72 levy on a home assessed at $200,000 — but residents don’t usually see that breakdown when they get their overall tax bill. County residents receive a tax bill that combines municipal taxes, the county levy and the school board levy. Knowing the county levy increase will help municipalities as they finalize their budgets and tell residents what to expect on their 2020 tax bills.

In a news release the county said the total tax increase over the last 18 years at the county government level has been about 22 per cent or about 1.23 per cent a year, which is below the annual inflation rate at about 1.71 per cent per year.

“This budget promotes quality-of-life issues that matter to residents like roads, active living and a new state-of-the-art hospital,” McNamara said. “It embraces our pay-as-you-go philosophy, supports our reserves and lays the foundation for future growth and development, positioning the county as an enviable place for businesses to invest and for families to live.”

There’s money in the 2020 budget to hire a planner to assist with an increase in development applications and to help with the county’s official plan review and with municipalities updating their own official plans. The county will also add a new deputy clerk position.

County council agreed to increase funding to the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation by almost $1.2 million, a 19 per cent increase over 2019 and the first increase since 2013 to the corporation.

The budget includes a $50 million construction program. The 2020 Road Rehabilitation Program includes more than 30 projects worth almost $14 million and includes a $1.5-million increase.

There’s more money going to the $28-million capacity expansion program including $605,000 for video detection and advanced traffic controllers at each of the county’s signalized intersections.

County council agreed to put an additional $100,000 to the $4.84 million County Wide Active Transportation System budget. The county and municipalities both add to the system of bike lanes and trails. Three paved shoulder projects worth $2 million are in the works for 2020.

Other highlights include the replacement of seven ambulances and adding $800,000 in a five-year capital program to repair and maintain affordable housing.