It’s all over for this year but the tax bills. The final overall budget increase, including the school boards, the Region and the City of Thorold is 1.49%, for a dollar increase of about $47.50 for the year on a property with an average assessment.
The very first motion at Wednesday night’s budget meeting was Councillor Handley’s suggestion to include $15,000 for roof repairs to the Darlene Ryan Port Robinson Community Centre, pointing out that it has been put off for too long. Mayor Luciani objected on the basis that he wished to keep the tax increase on the City’s part at 3.5% or lower, a sentiment shared by Councillor Ugulini. The matter was resolved when the money to pay for the Community Centre roof was found in a savings in taxes at the Senior Citizens Centre and Councillor Handley’s motion was passed.
Councillor Ugulini, in an effort to get back to the afore-mentioned 3.5%, moved that they remove the $25,000 for new windows for City Hall. Councillor Charron, however, reminded Council of some figures that the CFO had given them at the beginning: if they kept the budget they’d started with, they would need to raise taxes by 11.7% for 2016, 8.8% for 2017 and 8.4% for 2018. He pointed out that, by holding off on the windows this year, they would only be adding to that burden and, if he were considering running again in 2018 (he’s not), he would consider it much more politically desirable to put the larger tax increases at the beginning, besides which future tax increases would be lowered. Councillor Paone agreed, adding, “Millions of dollars in deficit and we’re…re-arranging the deck chairs”, referring to the $4 million per year that Thorold is underfunded to meet capital replacement goals. Councillor Ugulini declared that he would never approve a budget increase of 8% or 10%, but his initiative was overturned.
At this point, the Councillors became a bit sidetracked, with Councillor Longo suggesting they spend part of the Hydro fund, echoed by Councillor Wilson’s suggestion that they take the $25,000 for the windows from the Hydro fund. Councillor Handley jumped in by suggesting they raise the $25,000 by stopping their annual payments to the Niagara Health System – a move he’s been espousing for a number of years.
Councillor Ugulini then suggested removing the $22,000 they had earmarked as a cushion for next year’s expected insurance hikes. He said that it wouldn’t affect anything this year since it was just a nest egg for 2016. Following an explanation by the CFO that it was to prevent a situation like happened this year when a late increase caused them to take the money from a reserve, most of the rest of Council decided that it would just be another case of saving the taxpayers this year at the expense of next year.
After some time on spent on more blind alleys, the subject of Community Grants came up and Councillor Wilson, noting the cut to these grants, demanded that all grants be treated the same, pointing out that the sports grants were not affected. Subsidized ice time, for instance, is worth $24,000 for the Skating Club and $84,000 for the TAAA, yet those grants have not been lowered by the same 10% as all the others. Wilson pointed out that he wasn’t asking to cut their subsidies, but that all the community groups be treated the same. Instead of cutting those subsidies, Council voted to maintain the Community Grants at 2014 levels, foregoing the 10% cut.
In the end, the result was as stated in the beginning of this piece, with the City’s increase at 3.8%, but the overall increase to property taxes at 1.49%.