Thursday, December 9, 2004

Why, dat's mighty White 'o y'all!

Property tax hike chopped to 8.9%

In the process of making cuts, board of control sends a message to the province by rejecting downloading.
JOE BELANGER, Free Press City Hall Reporter 2004-12-09 02:52:34

You'll keep an extra $38 in your pocket next year after London's board of control shaved more than 18 per cent off next year's projected property-tax hike yesterday. And in its first day of budget cutting, the board sent the provincial government a message -- back off.

The board refused to foot the bill for increases to conservation authority budgets related to new clean water regulations.

Who need's clean water when we have the JLC?

It's a theme expected to continue today when the board finishes its capital budget and hunkers down to pare London's operating budget.

"They (the province) didn't come and consult us," said Controller Russ Montieth.

"They're just mandating and sending the bill to us. So, we have to push back in other ways."

Uh huh, a process these folks are all too familiar with (mandating and billing others, that is).

Yesterday's cuts reduced a projected 10.9-per-cent tax hike in 2005 to 8.9 per cent, leaving the average homeowner facing an extra $174 hit.

The city's draft budget calls for operating and capital spending of $834 million. Left uncut, it would raise taxes by 10.9 per cent, or $212 for the average home valued at $152,000.

To reduce the tax hike by one per cent requires either a cut of $3.4 million, or an equal amount of extra revenue.

Tax revenue from assessment growth accounted for about half of yesterday's nearly $7 million reduction.

The balance came through cuts to the operating budgets of boards and commissions and the capital budget.

Of the $1.1 million cut from boards and commissions, $304,000 came from the Kettle Creek, Lower Thames and Upper Thames River conservation authorities. Most authority cuts related to new Ontario clean-water rules stemming from the Walkerton tainted-water crisis, when seven people died and thousands became ill after e.-coli-contaminated water.

The London police budget escaped the knife, a proposed 5.5-per-cent boost still intact.

Ha, ha, ha, ha . . . that's right, you always want the police on your side! Especially when you are as greedy and unlikable as London city council.

The force, in a hiring spree, wants to add 15 officers next year on top of 56 hired over the last two years.

The police budget has ballooned by about 20 per cent to $63 million in the process, making it a target for some.

Don't you feel much safer now? Why just last month one of them was freed up from the usual parking lot squat long enough to pull me over and prove he was "just doing his job" by asking to see my ID because, well, you know, everyone is a potential criminal . . .

The police and other budgets must still be approved by city council in January.

Think Anne Marie will wear her hot red firefighting dress for that meeting?

London Transit, getting a $4.5-million injection of Ontario gas tax money to expand service, plans to add five new buses to ease overcrowding on major routes.

LTC general manager Larry Ducharme said he expects to expand service to growth areas in 2006.
The board made some cuts and adjustments to the capital budget but didn't complete the job, which continues today.

Council set a debt limit of $30 million for capital projects, making the selection process tougher.

And,ah,just what happenned to the $30 - $40 million emergency fund set aside last year? Anybody account for that yet?

Deputy Mayor and budget chief Tom Gosnell, who hopes to get the tax hike down to about six per cent, said he was pleased with the progress.

When isn't he pleased with himself?

Gosnell said boards and commissions that felt the budget axe yesterday are likely disappointed, "but the taxpayers would be even more disappointed if we don't get the tax rate down."

Who needs safe water? Wal-Mart and the JLC are what we need for survival. Those Goodamn treehuggers do nothing but impair development anyway. Maybe we can dissolve the conservation authority altogether and funnel that money into London's 151st birthday party next year.

YESTERDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS

Key cuts and savings in yesterday's first day of budget-cutting at London city hall:

- $267,000 from London Middlesex Housing Corp.'s budget request. The agency argued its budget is too low. It got an increase of about 28 per cent, or $728,000, boosting its budget to about $3.9 million.

- $50,000 from London Public Library's proposed $14 -million budget, which still climbs about 2.2 per cent.

Will they still be able to afford to staff and stock all those wonderful new library buildings?

- $455,000 from London Transit's request, given up due to Ontario gas-tax revenue that instead will fund the transit system's expansion.

- $2 million for repairs and upgrades to non-profit housing was cut in half; the other $1 million will come from expected federal gas-tax revenue, not city taxpayers.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2004

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