Niagara Region Budget Committee Agrees to 6.9% Levy Increase for 2024 Budget

Regional councillors express apprehensions over the long-term fiscal strategies and deferrals proposed in Niagara’s 2024 budget planning, citing concerns about their impact and efficacy.

With the end of the year fast approaching, Niagara Regional Council is focusing much of its efforts on completing the 2024 budget. The Budget Committee, chaired by Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop, has agreed to a general levy increase to 6.9 per cent.

The Committee held its most recent meeting on Thursday, December 7th. The $265.9-million regional operating budget proposal was discussed in five hours of deliberations. This proposed budget comprises 55 per cent of the general tax levy budget. It also calculates what property tax rates will be necessary for regional departments to fund their operations.

Helen Furtado, Director of Financial Management and Planning, provided a breakdown of 2024 expenditures. She noted a $5.7 million decrease was achieved through the use of departmental mitigations. A $15.1 million increase has also been accounted for, due to factors such as development charge grants, operating expenses for shelters and long-term care, increasing labour costs and other inflationary measures.

Another key component of the meeting was the presentation of the updated police budget by Niagara Regional Police Chief Bryan MacCulloch. The budget, now totalling $188.5 million, has been reduced from its original budget projection by 1.1 per cent ($2 million overall) to make the lower general levy rate possible. MacCulloch expressed confidence that the cuts will not have a negative impact on the ability of the police department to carry out its mandate.

Although these plans are expected to limit residential cost increases to $129 per average household in 2024, Furtado pointed out that the mitigations that are being used bring with them potential financial risks for subsequent years. Changes to the provincial Bill 23 (build more homes faster), the upcoming renegotiation of multiple union contracts, and uncertainties regarding inflation could create significant economic turbulence.

Multiple regional councillors, including St. Catharines Mayor Matt Siscoe and Niagara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa, believe that the deferral of development, tax and project deferrals into future years is fiscally irresponsible and ignorant of long-term interests. Zalepa brought forward three motions to amend the deferrals, but they were defeated.

The Budget Review Committee will continue deliberations on Thursday, December 14th, at 4:30 pm, during the final meeting before the Christmas break.

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