City homeowners get a rare property tax decrease from city hall

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For the first time in living memory – and probably beyond – property tax bills across Belleville will decrease in the year ahead, despite the city absorbing $2.6 million in emergency COVID-19 pandemic costs since March.

In city council budget deliberations Monday at city hall, council approved a property tax decrease across the board of 0.21 to 0.61 per cent.

The negative tax rate was made possible by the city’s finance team dipping into reserves to cover COVID-19 expenses, reducing summer city staff by two thirds and finding $600,000 in savings on 150 budget line items.

Helped by a -4.97 education tax rate merged with the city property tax rate, property owners in urban Belleville and rural Cannifton will see their overall property taxes dip slightly.

For example, an owner of a $250,000 home will see their property tax decline by 0.21 per cent or by $8.63 to $4,107.11 from the $4,115.73 paid in 2019.


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Property tax bills will be mailed out in late July to 18,619 residential property owners who represent 54.9 per cent of taxation.

Mayor Mitch Panciuk said the good-news budget will help bring a small measure of relief to wary homeowners who have weathered nearly four months of pandemic challenges both personally and financially.

The mayor said few he spoke with Monday can recall when the city ever approved a negative property tax rate come budget time.

“I think it may be even longer than living memory, because I don’t even think they had it in the ‘50s and the ‘40s. It’s hard to go back to check that record. It’s so unusual. I don’t mean to gloat, but we’re so proud of this,” Panciuk told The Intelligencer following the budget meeting at city hall.

The mayor said approving a budget later in the year – after a series of major revisions to an earlier draft in February – made it a bit more manageable to assess mounting costs, some associated with COVID-19.

“We had scheduled our budget meetings for April then COVID-19 hit,” Panciuk said. “The direction then from me to our staff was that these were exceptional times and we need an exceptional budget. We knew businesses are suffering and we needed to show that the city was willing to do our part. I think a negative tax increase is crystal clear as you can get.”

Panciuk said the city did not rob Peter to pay Paul to get to a property tax rate decrease – no capital budget items were cut to preserve future investment in the city.


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New growth in the city also added additional assessment to the city’s tax base allowing for more wiggle room come budget planning, the mayor said.

Another upside to Monday’s budget approval is free city parking and free city transit will be extended until August 31.

City treasurer Carol J. Hinze, in her budget presentation to council chambers, said “it’s been a very long road with multiple versions and ups and downs and changes and we’ve had to respond to every change and I think we did a very good job at that.”

“Never has there been a budget with so many versions. A preliminary draft was prepared for the April meeting but has been drastically revised many times,” she said.

Hinze said finance staff found $600,000 in savings on 150 budget line items noting the new reality of COVID-19 has changed city hall budgeting for some time to come.

“It’s highly unlikely that we will be able to return to pre-COVID spending patterns any time soon. I would suggest that it maybe fiscal 2022 or beyond before we return to previous spending levels,” Hinze said.

“To mitigate the impact on city taxpayers, reserve funding has been utilized to bring the net effect to zero for 2020,” Hinze said.

Coun. Bill Sandison, chairman of the city finance committee, said “it has been daunting. Belleville has met the challenge head on… we are financially positioned to weather the storm.”

“We all wanted a zero per cent tax increase for our residents, businesses and farmers in these excruciatingly difficult times. With a lot of blood, sweat and perseverance, our executive management team have beat our expectations and I want to thank them all,” he said.


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Belleville Police Chief Ron Gignac, in his budget presentation to council, said a 6.74 per cent increase in the city police budget for 2020 was necessary to meet growing demands for police services.

The $18.8 million city police budget comes at a time when police services across the country, including Belleville, are being pressured to share up to 10 per cent of their budgets with other community agencies as part of a “defund police” movement following violent or deadly clashes with police.

No concessions were made in this year’s police budget for defunding or detasking police.

However, in his address to city council Monday, Gignac did not rule out partnership with other community agencies in future noting he has tried for the last four years to work more closely with mental health and addiction agencies to assist in police responses on the beat.

Coun. Sean Kelly asked Gignac, “could we make a better partnership, is this something you see down the road working with … a crisis team on the road?”

Gignac replied, “We have been trying to get that partnership here in Belleville for the last almost four years. It got as far as meeting with the Minister of Health … we tried to bring a pilot program here to Belleville where we had mental health crisis workers, at least one, to ride along with our officers and deal with the mental health call for services.”

The police chief recalled the provincial decision in the early 1990s to close mental health institutions in favour of placement in the community but “where did all the mental health calls get shifted to? The police services because we became the only 24 and seven mental health crisis response on the front line.”

Coun. Chris Malette, meanwhile, asked city council to step back from a budget request involving renovations to city hall to add more room for staff.

Malette pointed out a budget item noted there would be changes in the atrium – possibly blocking the glass roofing design — which floods sunlight throughout the core of all floors of the historical building.

Council agreed to hear the concerns in full at a later meeting of council to address concerns about the atrium which was installed in 1988 as part of a sweeping and award-winning restoration of Belleville’s classic city hall.

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