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HOT ROD CREW COMES THROUGH: From left, John Stenabaugh presents a donation of $1,215 to Dorchester Food Bank co-ordinator Jean Davis on behalf of the entire Hot Rod Shop crew on December 20.

Heeman defends

property tax increase

by Scott Taylor

        It's not a large property tax increase at 3.4 per cent, but it is a rare increase for Thames Centre that has some residents asking for an explanation. The municipality has already said residents here pay the lowest property taxes in the county, but with declining development fees in 2023 and a big-ticket item such as the Seniors Centre renovation, which accounts for an increase of 2 per cent on its own, council had little choice but to raise the rate.
        The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) also accounted for .4 per cent, something the municipality can do nothing about.
        In his report to council, Chief Administrative Officer David Barrick said the municipality is facing many challenges.
        "The 2024 Budget presents challenges for the Municipality of Thames Centre: annual budget pressures; economic uncertainty resulting in slower building permit activity and, therefore, collection of fewer development charges; higher inflation raising the cost of goods and services the municipality uses; higher interest rates increasing debenture costs; and, additional operating expenses approved subsequent to the approval of the 2023 budget that need to be embedded into the 2024 operating budget."
        Ward 1 councillor Tom Heeman said council carefully examined every line item in the budget for savings, but in the end inflation, the lack of development fees, and using actual historic numbers instead of estimates couldn't be overcome.
        "The big difference this year with the 3.4 (per cent increase) is that we're not calculating it on the basis of assessment versus mill rate. Taxes have gone up roughly 2 per cent historically, but that was on the basis of an increased assessment value."
        Basically, he explained, homeowners are paying a little extra now for Thames Centre's vigilance in keeping costs down the past few years.
        "When you look at 3.4 versus inflation, it's actually pretty close. That's where we have been careful during the pandemic to make sure we didn't have any dramatic increases while everything else went up. Evan last year's budget was quite low given that last year is when a lot of inflation happened. Based on current rates, inflation is about 3.1 per cent, so looking at inflation dollars, we're keeping pace, but if I can talk out of the other side of my mouth most of these cost increases are not from inflated cost values; they're from largely capital projects. The increase in operating costs was kept low."
        Heeman said the multi-million-dollar Seniors Centre renovation wasn't included in last year's budget. It was started last year, but it wasn't funded last year.
        "Technically, it would've been in the previous year's budget because it's a carryover project, but it was unfunded. It was greenlit, but it wasn't funded."
        He added that when all the numbers come in from the county, Thames Centre residents should be the recipients of the lowest property tax increase.

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