The Town of Newmarket plans to add an extra one per cent to its tax levy increase to address recreation capital projects, bringing the total 2024 increase to 3.99 per cent.
Newmarket Mayor John Taylor brought the proposal forward Dec. 4 as the town works to finalize its 2024 budget, after staff brought forward a tax rate increase of under three per cent as directed by council.
Taylor said the extra tax increase is necessary to address recreation plans in the long term. With construction inflation at more than 30 per cent the last few years, Taylor said costs to bring some upcoming capital projects to fruition have risen, and the town will need to find more funding.
“The one thing the residents of Newmarket want to see us invest in is recreation and trails,” Taylor said.
The extra tax increase would bring in approximately $700,000 for recreation and capital projects and be embedded into the budget beyond 2024. Taylor did not propose an annualized increase at this point, meaning there would not necessarily be further tax rate increases dedicated to recreation in years beyond 2024.
The extra one per cent represents an approximately $24 increase on an annual tax bill for a home in Newmarket assessed at $702,000. The full 3.99 per cent increase would total about $96 for that home.
Acting CAO Jeff Payne said the rise in construction prices has added challenge to long-term planning for capital projects and that the funding in place is not sufficient to support all the capital projects the town has planned in the next 10 years.
“One per cent, I don’t think will solve the problem entirely. But one per cent will certainly be a significant boost for us to move projects forward,” he said.
Some of the projects include building a park on the former Hollingsworth Arena lands, a new outdoor rink due to be built outside the Ray Twinney Recreation Complex and a future dedicated pickleball facility.
Taylor also noted that many municipalities are looking at tax increases much higher than Newmarket’s, and that Newmarket should stay about 10 per cent below the GTA average on taxation. Aurora is tentatively at a 3.9 per cent increase, King at a 5.49 per cent increase, and East Gwillimbury is considering a 7.7 per cent increase.
Meanwhile, York Region is planning a 3.75 per cent increase for its portion of residential tax bills, which could cost average Newmarket homeowners about $88 per year independent of the Newmarket increase.
Provincial Bill 23 is also a part of this, Taylor said. The bill reduces the amount developers pay in development charges to municipalities, which typically fund the infrastructure necessary for growth, including recreation.
“When we talk about putting a burden on taxpayers, the burden isn’t just being put on them by us,” Taylor said.
Council approved the extra tax rate increase unanimously, though some councillors expressed misgivings.
“Our residents are having a really hard time paying their bills,” Councillor Jane Twinney said.
“I am concerned obviously any time we have to deviate from a plan,” Councillor Christina Bisanz said. “We put a lot of thought last year to come up with a budget that was sustainable that would maintain service levels to residents. … However, I do also appreciate and acknowledge that costs have gone up.”
But council ultimately came down in favour of the increase. Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh said the increase is a positive sign that this council is being mindful of the future.
“We need to be able to adjust to the financial reality that we will be facing,” Vegh said.
Taylor said some people think that recreation building is something that can be forgone. But he said it is necessary to address growth and ensure amenities are there for all the people moving into Newmarket and York Region, in more densely populated communities.
“That is not a fringe benefit, that’s a necessity,” Taylor said. “We have to make sure we keep building the spaces and places for a growing population … We’re finding a balanced approach, but at the same time, trying not to leave this to the next generation of elected officials or residents to deal with this shortfall.”