Guelph council approves 2024 budget with 8.52% tax hike
Part of that increase is due to staggering the costs of new city hires throughout the year
GUELPH — While still the highest property tax increase in decades, city council made further cuts to next year’s municipal budget and more cuts could be coming in the years ahead.
At a Nov. 29 meeting, unanimous approval was given to the 2024-27 multi-year budget, carrying with it an 8.52 per cent property tax increase in 2024.
While the multi-year budget carries with it expected property tax increases for 2025 through 2027, those figures are still subject to council debate and approval in the years ahead.
“This city has an absolute laserfocused commitment, and we are not turning a blind eye to 2025, 2026 and 2027,” Mayor Cam Guthrie said.
“We will be starting to work on this tomorrow on what the impacts are going to be a year from now — I will state that I do not accept that outlook.”
That outlook, based on tentative numbers given to council Wednesday, calls for a 9.79 per cent increase in 2025, up from the 9.38 per cent originally anticipated.
Part of that increase is due to staggering the costs of new city hires throughout the year — meaning while the impact is lower for 2024, their full impact would be on the books in 2025.
Guthrie noted that the lowered increase for 2024 will aid in making things a bit more affordable in the short-term, “and then we have some runway to help with the following years.”
Although he now has the power under provincial legislation to veto council-approved changes to the city budget, Guthrie confirmed Wednesday he would not be doing that.
Council began its Wednesday session facing a property tax increase of 9.9 per cent in 2024 — down from the 10.32 per cent originally projected when the draft budget was released earlier this month thanks to the County of Wellington’s request for increased social services being lower than originally expected and assessment growth coming in slightly higher than city staff anticipated.
While the staggering of City of Guelph staff positions was unanimously approved, it was a tighter vote for positions with the Guelph Public Library. In that case, $257,000 in salary costs were removed from 2024, but are added back in the next year.
Following a motion from Coun. Dominique O’Rourke, plans to implement digital signs at all Guelph Transit stops with real-time information on bus arrivals are being put on hold — a move Courtney McDonald, Guelph Transit’s business services manager, says will have the most impact low-income riders and seniors.
“It does potentially impact customers who do not have access to internet or data. However, we know that about 98.5 per cent of the total population has cellular mobile connections, so if people are leaving a home or their workplace or other places where they’ve got WiFi, they can check,” the Ward 6 councillor said.
Existing signs at major transit hubs will remain in place.
Council also narrowly approved another motion from O’Rourke to cut the annual transfer to the city’s affordable housing reserve fund to $100,000 from $500,000.
O’Rourke said the reserve was created with the idea of helping cover development charges for affordable housing projects — something that is now being done unilaterally by provincial housing legislation.
“I’m asking to keep a smaller amount in the affordable housing reserve to allow us to still have some seed money to help programs leverage other dollars, and if there were projects that came to council, we could still look at surplus or operating reserves to help fund that project,” she said.
Some proposals to bring spending down failed to gain the majority of council’s support, including ones to cut the amount of money going toward Guelph’s bicentennial celebrations in 2027 and another from O’Rourke to put some transit expansion projects on hold.
While much of Wednesday was spent looking at what to cut from the 2024 budget, some items were added on — however, all of them are being paid for by city reserve funds.
This includes directing $100,000 for health and safety supports for a team led by the County of Wellington that will undertake regular wellness checks on the residents of encampments in city limits, with a report on how those funds are used expected to come back to council no later than June 2024.
Council also approved putting $43,335 annually in 2024 and 2025 toward an effort by the Guelph-Wellington Ontario Health Team to recruit more doctors to come to the area.
Up to $10,000 in reserve funds will be used next year to investigate a potential change to Guelph’s property tax deferral program, which is currently only available to those meeting the province’s lowincome threshold and/or collecting disability benefits.
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited