SPRINGWATER TWP., ONT. -- In a virtual meeting, members of Simcoe County council approved the budget for 2021 with the outlook of $572 million in spending, a $42 million or 7.9 per cent increase over 2020.

County of Simcoe Warden George Cornell said the budget focuses on maintaining existing services and addressing the ongoing needs of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It was important that county council take a very serious look where we were financially and what the situation was in our communities with respect to our residents and businesses," Cornell said.

Part of the increase in spending can be attributed to $13.5 million in COVID-related costs on long-term care, PPE and cleaning, as well as solid waste management.

County of Simcoe 2021 budget

Budget highlights include $78 million in total spending on long-term care homes and senior services.

The county allocated $79 million to Ontario Works, and the most extensive item is $94 million on waste management.

The top three areas of capital spending in the budget are $33.3 million on waste management, $23.4 million on transportation and $19.2 million on social housing.

There are also investments in the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport, transit and paramedic services.

Despite the increased spending and investments, council also decided to hold the county's portion of property taxes to a zero per cent increase in 2021.

Trevor Wilcox, general manager, Corporate Performance Division at County of Simcoe, said they achieved that by dipping into reserves, cutting costs and drawing on the county's financial resources.

"We have monies that we have collected, and we are not using it immediately. We are redirecting those to some of the programs that we need to finance immediately, and we are able to that with internal financing."

The county said the budget also preserves its AA credit rating for the seventh year in a row.