Whitby looks to up taxes by nearly $40 per house in 2022 budget amid staffing shortfall

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Published November 17, 2021 at 11:02 am

In a special council meeting November 15 Whitby council approved a targeted tax increase of two per cent, raising taxes $39 a year for the town’s homeowners.

Meanwhile, staffing shortfalls at the Town have reached “critical mass,” jeopardizing the delivery of services and completion of projects.

In a statement, the town said the hike would “continued essential service delivery,” such as waste collection, snow clearing and parks maintenance while balancing the increase with public concerns surrounding affordability. With the Town experiencing a 27 per cent staffing shortfall, this continued high standard service is “at capacity.”

Whitby has engaged with the public throughout the budget process, accepting feedback through the Citizen Budget Tool. The survey indicated that most respondents, about 75 per cent, were satisfied with Town services and their quality of life.

However, it found fewer than half of respondents, about 45 per cent, were comfortable with the associated taxes that fund those services.

Whitby Chief Administrative Officer Matt Gaskell began the meeting Monday by stressing the importance of the 2022 budget as the last of Council’s term before elections next year. “The budget that is ultimately approved,” he said, “will be very important and meaningful in the legacy that is left by this council.”

Gaskell explained the Town has spent the last three years focused on “significant change” to its operation such as planning reforms.

He said improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace was a key priority for council, saying staff were directed to do so in 2017. Whitby was recently under fire after inappropriate comments from Deputy Mayor Christopher Leahy set off a barrage of workplace harassment allegations. No formal investigations have been filed.

Gaskell continued that the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on these programs. More than 200 staff have been laid off since the onset 20 months ago, resulting in numerous projects being put aside. More than 100 projects were carried to the next year.

These projects and new projects that have been added over the last year “had an impact,” according to Gaskell. Previous studies found the Town was a “very lean” organization and the workforce needed to increase by 15 people a year, just to maintain services, without consideration for the expected increase in demand an influx of new residents would have.

“Today we find ourselves with a growing deficit that will only continue to increase,” Gaskell said, “This means we are stretching our workforce too thin to be able to deliver services and complete projects.”

“I’ve talked to council in the past about the organization reaching critical mass where capacity to deliver services has been reached,” he stressed. “I believe we have reached that threshold. Without continued investment in new staffing, I do not believe the current staff is able to meet the current service levels.”

This shortfall, coupled with new existing projects from council, leads to an overworked and less healthy staff, he said.

In a survey, three-quarters say they were working overtime, 70 per cent reported worsened mental health and more than half reported worsened physical health since the pandemic began. “We run the very real risk of burning staff out,” Gaskell said.

While speaking to successes such as keeping the pandemic budget low (it was increased $30 a year in 2021) Gaskell said it’s been very difficult to rehire recreation part-timers as many were students and have been gone for 18 months. “We require them to re-open programs.”

Whitby recently lifted capacity limits at rec centres and is set to open registration for Winter programing.

Describing the new growth approved by the town as “record-breaking,” Gaskell said the Town has not kept pace with the services demand that growth will require.

The Town of Whitby receives only three per cent of all taxes a given household pays in a year. Of the nine per cent of overall taxes the Town collects, a third goes to the Regional government and a third goes to the school boards.

A Zoocasa study ranked Whitby as 17th highest property tax rate of 35 polled cities. While this is mid-range overall, Whitby has the second-highest in Durham Region, behind only Oshawa.

The full budget proposal is due in Council in January, before final approval in February. Anyone with questions or concerns can email the town at [email protected], or send a delegation to council.

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