Halton's 2007 budget received three preliminary stamps of approval lastweek, meaning local residents could be looking at a $30 tax increase this year. The document was endorsed by the trio of regional standing committees and will soon go before the budget committee and regional council for final approval. If the current figures are given the go-ahead, the tax increase for this year will be set at 2.4 per cent, or $28.88 extra for a home assessed at $300,000. That number may go up very slightly-- by less than $1-- if the health and social services committee's recommendation to add $200,000 to the budget for local domiciliary hostel funding is ultimately approved. The tax hike is down from the anticipated 3.3 per cent, which would have equated to $39.68 for a typical household. The savings was largely achieved by recent news from the Province that it's going to increase Halton's emergency medical services (EMS) funding by $1.6 million. "That money really does help out," remarked Regional Chairman Gary Carr, noting he thinks the proposed tax increase is reasonable. "I think we've put together a good budget." For 2007, the average homeowner's total regional tax bill is expected to be about $1,257. Included in that number is $406 for police services, $277 for social and community services, $182 for GTA pooling (a system that helps Toronto pay for its social services) $145 for planning and transportation and $114 for waste management. "We continue to provide a high quality of service to our residents," noted acting Commissioner of Corporate Services Mark Scinocca. In addition to hearing from Region staff, the administration and finance committee was also given a presentation Wednesday by Conservation Halton (CH), which receives funding from Halton each year. In the past, CH's budget has come under fire during deliberations at the Region, with committee members saying it was difficult to understand. In response, CH set up a finance committee and developed a budget presentation format and guiding budget principles to clarify its process. This time around, the conservation authority's budget received kudos from regional councillors like Burlington's John Taylor, who congratulated its staff for presenting a "much clearer, concise and understandable" document. CH's request for $4.5 million-- 11 per cent more than last year-- was supported by the committee within the 2007 budget. The committee also endorsed the Halton Regional Police budget of more than $90 million. Of the proposed $28.88 tax increase, $22.32 is for police services, while the remainder is for regional services. On the water and wastewater side of the budget, rates are expected to go up by four per cent, or $26.17. This is less than the 6.5 per cent hike, equating to approximately $42, projected last year for 2007. A staff report to the committees explained that savings have been achieved from prior investments made in the water meter replacement program, accelerated cast iron watermain replacement program and the hydro purchasing plan. But the four per cent increase still raised concerns for Taylor, who noted that over the years, the cost of water for a typical family has gone from about $350 to 2007's anticipated $675. "It certainly has implications for the working poor," he pointed out. The budget will next go before the budget review committee January 22 and regional council January 24.