Wednesday, January 26, 2005

It's only 6.63% - and it's London's 150th besides

The verdict is in: only a 6.63% increase, compared to last years 5.9% tax hike. Wonder what's in store for Londoners next year, especially considering our reverend elders are dippin' into the sacred trough, euphemistically known as the reserve or surplus fund:

Londoners will face a 6.63 per cent property tax hike this year -- a reduction that came in an often stormy eight-hour session at city hall. Sunday swims at indoor pools, a funding hike for a program helping low-income families pay utility bills and the hiring of some new police officers were among the casualties yesterday as council eased a threatened 7.3 per cent tax hike.

The cuts mean taxpayers will see an increase of $128.75 on an average home assessed at $152,000, bringing the property tax bill to $2,070.75 plus $670 for sewer and water.

....

Council members cut $272,000 from the city manager's budget, the fire department and community services.
Wow - what a savings. They even worked a full eight hour day!
Gosnell defended council's efforts and praised staff for helping lead the cutting process.

"We have to remind Londoners that half of what we'll be asking on their tax bill is either uncontrollable costs or downloading (of service costs from the province.)"

"Would I like the budget (hike) to be three per cent? You're darn right I would, but that's not the world we live in right now."

Council's job was eased somewhat because administration had followed its directive and found $500,000 in savings from two city departments -- $250,000 from community services and $250,000 from engineering.

That meant the 7.3 per cent hike Londoners faced Monday had been cut to 7.1 per cent when yesterday's marathon deliberations began.

It also means there will be no Sunday swimming from the end of June to the end of August at the Canada Games Aquatic Centre and South London Community Pool -- a cut that will save $17,000.

As the debate wore on, Gosnell won support for a motion to take $650,000 from the city's surplus fund and apply it against the tax hike.

Even before the budget debate began, tempers flared when Coun. Ab Chahbar was told there were no plans to make a presentation on a controversial report released last weekend showing London's property taxes among the province's highest.

"I understood we were going to have a presentation on that report first," an exasperated Chahbar said, prompting city manager Jeff Fielding to oversee a 45-minute presentation and question period on the report by BMA Management Consulting Inc.

Fielding stressed the report didn't address such issues as service delivery. He noted in Kitchener, while taxes were lower, some services London provides don't exist. Sidewalk snow removal, for example, is left to homeowners, he said.

Fielding said a key concern in the report is that London's median household income is lower than in many competitive municipalities, so the message to council should be to add jobs and boost incomes.
That's just dandy - let us fund the JLC, but 'download' snow removal onto taxpayers. Sunday swimming is surely more important than snow removal. Mind you, the elderly might have a case here, perhaps having to pay someone to remove snow from the sidewalks, at the same time as they are forced to fund entertainment that they cannot necessarily enjoy or desire. As for London's lower median household income, well, the apathetic ones remain here, looking for handouts. London is not exactly business friendly, unless of course, you know someone on council.
When Van Meerbergen proposed slashing an additional $250,000 from corporate communications, Fielding said it would "eliminate that department."
Corporate communications? Eliminate please. While we are at it, let's stop the funding to Graham Pollett, London's version of George Slithermann, and also cut off the heritage lobbyists:
A major battle centred on funding for the Middlesex London Health Unit.

Some members of council wanted to cut $364,000 from the unit's $22.3 million budget, money they argued was saved when the province upped its share to 55 per cent.

But Graham Pollett, medical officer of health, backed by Coun. Susan Eagle, a member of the health board, argued the city should maintain its funding at 2004 levels to close the gap on underfunded programs.

.....

Fanshawe Pioneer Village -- which was subject of a motion by Van Meerbergen to cut all funding and close the historic site -- managed to remain in operation with a $215,000 operating grant this year. That's $50,000 less than council's original grant, but enough to keep the village open while it seeks funding from other sources.

- The city's THAW program, which helps low-income families pay utility bills, took a $35,000 cut, despite an impassioned plea from Eagle that it could leave 100 families out in the cold this winter. Still, THAW will receive $200,000 this year -- the same as last year -- despite heightened demand.

- The woodlot acquisition fund was cut from $500,000 to $250,000 over the objections of several councillors who said it flew in the face of London's reputation as the forest city. But $50,000 was earmarked this year to plant trees in recognition of London's 150th anniversary of becoming a city.
Good to see council has their priorities in place.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

If it makes anyone feel any better, the City of Ottawa have been busy transferring tax base from business to residential ratepayers. I don't have the actual numbers (too upsetting), but something like a 4% overall tax increase really means about a 10% increase for residential property owners.

Of course, city council in Ottawa have been busy patting themselves on the back for "only" raising taxes about 3.5% last year and about 4% this year (pending next month's approval of this year's budget).