Council will begin budget deliberations on Wednesday, November 18 at 6:30 p.m. but maybe I should start this with a disclaimer like at the start of certain TV shows: “Caution is advised as you may find portions of the following to be disturbing.” It isn’t really all that bad but, depending upon your interests and affiliations, you may not like this much. There’s no doubt though – this is a “bare-bones” budget.
Staff were directed by City Council last year to hold the line on tax increases at 2.5% and they did it, although I understand there was a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth. The overview states that budget as presented generally maintains the City’s level of service except for Transit, but I guess that depends where you’re looking from.
Just as a note to those who have never followed the budget process before, this recommendation will go before the Councilors, who will then take it apart department by department and section by section. They will try to find more savings, usually in areas that they think won’t offend the wrong people. Then they will start putting items cut by the staff recommendations back into the budget, depending upon pet projects and deemed necessities (deemed by the Councilors, not necessarily any practical reason). Then, when they get to the last meeting, they’ll undo half of what they spent the first few meetings doing and pass it, or maybe even start over again.
After $14.2 million in deferrals and reductions, the City needs to raise $12,259,178 through taxes (expenses of $17,965,256 less $5,706,078 in revenue). With all of this, the City is still in an infrastructure funding deficit of about $2 million per year and they’re servicing $1.75 million in external debt (plus more in internal debentures).
The amount of taxes you pay to the city represents approximately 37% of your overall tax bill and the rest is charged to you by the Region and the School Boards, although the City has to collect it for them.
The changes on the minus side (well, depending upon your point of view) are as follows:
- Complete elimination of Community Grants
- Reduction in the tree programme (ash trees)
- A cut in Transit and Paratransit services (reduced and less frequent buses) – Transit to Port Robinson is being considered no more
- $15,000 cut in Façade Grants
- Drop the Downtown Heritage District Study (a Downtown Streetscape Master Plan suggestion)
- Cuts to ODA projects (accessibility)
- Tourism budget reduced by $1,883
- Economic Development cut by $11,400 (mostly Santa Claus Parade Grant, which was eliminated)
- No new money for financing Arenas repairs
On the plus side (again, point of view):
- $165,000 in projected new money from Rental Housing Licensing (read student houses), which hasn’t even been presented to Council yet
- $64,300 in new Arenas revenues (at least partly due to ice time for new senior Atheltics team)
- $37,200 in increased Planning fees
- $11,900 in increased pool fees
- $9,400 in new park fees
As the process moves along, I’m sure we’ll find out more detail about these changes and exactly what they mean.