Waterloo Region's 2021 budget approved; tax increase tied to police budget

Waterloo Regional Council approved its 2021 spending plan Wednesday night.

The budget includes a $5 million funding increase for the Waterloo Regional Police Service, which officials say is the only factor that will bring an extra cost to taxpayers.

The region's total expenditures for 2021, excluding the police budget, is $842 million. They will collect $395 million in taxes this year, a zero per cent increase from 2020.

The police budget will use $185 million in tax dollars.

Officials say it will mean a 0.51% increase on the regional portion of property tax bills, working out to roughly $10 more for the average household.

Police funding was a source of debate in the weeks leading up to the budget vote.

Many community members asked councillors to reject the proposed increase to the police budget, and the service to resubmit their request with a zero per cent increase.

Although that didn't happen, councillors passed motions urging the province to adopt more police reform.

They also set aside $250,000 to develop a strategy on investing in preventative programs to reduce the requirement of police in some situations.

OVERALL BUDGET

Council also sprinkled some new plans into the budget, aimed at supporting local businesses, affordable housing and automated speed enforcement.

According to regional officials, the budget includes:

  • $20 million over two years for affordable housing
  • $15 million to improve the economic, social and cultural health for BIPOC in the region
  • $3 million in temporary support for businesses affected by the pandemic.
  • Funding for 100 public health staff
  • $3 million for self-isolation centres

Wednesday's meeting also approved increasing taxi rates from $2.10 to $2.30 per kilometre. It will also now cost $35 per hour of waiting. The last rate increase in the region was nine years ago.

COUNCIL REACTION

“The Region of Waterloo provides critical services to each and every resident, every day of the week and we continue to invest in those services,” said Councillor Sean Strickland, Chair of Budget Committee, in a news release.

“Our plan and budget also recognizes the need to breathe life back into our local economy, and that’s why we’re providing targeted supports to local businesses – the lifeblood of our cities, towns and economies.”

“Council has a thoughtful, deliberate and purpose-built plan that aims to bring better quality of life to all of our residents now and into the future,” Regional Chair Karen Redman said in the release. “The approval of today’s budget is a major milestone investment in that plan and vision."