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Pandemic-related changes to London’s 2021 draft budget update expected to lower property tax increase

London, Ont., city hall. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

Some major pandemic-related revisions to the City of London’s bottom line could actually result in a smaller than anticipated property tax increase next year.

London city councillors have official began the 2021 budget update process, part of the annual updates associated with the multi-year budget, when they met at the strategic priorities and policy committee meeting on Tuesday.

Read more: Coronavirus — London, Ont., to receive over $40 million in Phase 1 of provincial, federal funding

A 4.4 per cent property tax increase was approved by council under the 2020-23 multi-year budget on March 2, but the Nov. 17 update includes a proposed 3.8 per cent increase. Councillor and budget chair Josh Morgan says there are also options to reduce it even further to 3.5 per cent.

“There’s around eight significant revisions that staff have identified, both in development of the budget as well as decision points for council and those will not be the last revisions,” Morgan told Global News prior to the start of Tuesday’s meeting.

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“There will be additional business cases that will be presented through the course of the budget and, of course, there will be the debate that we will have, which will be based on the public engagement that we do.”

The eight significant revisions to the 2021 budget. City of London

One key change that civic administration made as part of the budget process is the application of the Equity & Inclusion and Gender Equity Lens.

“We were able to work through the anti-racism and anti-oppression lens that is currently existing,” said City Treasurer Anna Lisa Barbon at Tuesday’s meeting. “Our working group worked through the lenses and went through every single budget amendment to include some comment for consideration.”

Morgan adds some items have been deferred to later dates but in some cases, the city just “didn’t need the money in 2021, mainly due to COVID.”

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“For example, in children’s services, there’s a $1.6-million reduction in 2021 mainly because we were going to have to build additional child-care spaces and based on the changes of demand with people spending a good amount of time at home, that hasn’t been necessary to come to fruition,” Morgan said.

“Will we need that one day? Perhaps. But that’s not going to be a 2021 need and there’s a number of items like that.”

Morgan also mentioned the green bin program, which was supposed to start next fall but will now roll out in summer or fall of 2022.

“Green bins is just one component of the overall (waste diversion) plan. That plan is still scheduled to be completed on the same time frame. It’s just its green bin component that will be delayed by a one-year implementation. And that’s simply because staff didn’t do a lot of the prep work, because they were dealing with pandemic stuff this year.”

Read more: City green bin program delayed in London, Ont.

However, much like 2020, Morgan expects that there will be changes made throughout 2021 as the city continues to respond to the evolving pandemic.

“These are preliminary estimated costs. Who knows what vaccines and lockdowns and changes will bring as both the case counts in Ontario go up but news of a vaccine looks positive. How those play out will obviously evolve over time,” he said.

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“We have to be flexible throughout the course of the year, but we will certainly face COVID-related impacts. We will likely have to adjust our operations through the course of 2021 to absorb some of those.”

A public participation meeting on the draft budget is scheduled for Dec. 7, with council set to deliberate on Dec. 10 and 11.

The final approval of the 2021 annual budget update is set for Jan. 12, 2021.

— With files from Global News’ Natalie Lovie and Kelly Wang.

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