Thursday, January 20, 2005

City councillors stomachs grumbling in marathon budget smokescreening

Just as promised, Gosnell and Co. are selflessly working toward saving taxpayers money .

Council whittles property tax hike

OK kids, can everyone say doublespeak . . .

Councillors trim the proposed property tax increase to 7.1 per cent, but direct staff to cut it to 6.8 per cent.

Under fire from irate taxpayers that the proposed property tax hike is too high, city councillors did some cutting yesterday. They also added some dollars to a draft operating budget of $659 million, but, ultimately, the exercise was good news for taxpayers.

OK, so pressuring unelected staff (who are unaccountable to the voters) to decide which sevice cuts to surprise us with the next time we look for city hall sevices is good news?

After a marathon budget session that began at 1 p.m, Londoners were looking at a property tax hike of 7.3 per cent, which translates into an additional $141.22 on an average home assessed at $152,000.

However, just before midnight, a motion by Coun. Rob Alder passed by a 10-4 vote to direct staff to find an additional $2 million in cuts that would reduce the tax hike to 6.8 per cent . . .

Some council members criticized Alder's motion.

Controller Gord Hume dismissed the motion as "a cop-out."

"To ask staff to do in three working days what we've been unable to do here is a waste of their time. If you don't have the courage to make the cuts, don't ask staff to do it."

Mr. Hume had his thinking cap on yesterday, but perhaps Mr. Alder was delirious from long hours and all that yummy $15 a plate city subsidised cafeteria chicken they are forced to eat at these meetings.

The tax hike stood at 7.8 per cent before yesterday's session.

Council started out its tax-cutting session going in the opposite direction -- adding $100,000 to the budget to hire someone to help recruit desperately needed family doctors to the city.

On the revenue side, the city had calculated an additional $2 million as a dividend from London Hydro -- the city-owned utility.
Does this mean the rates are going up? I see no mention of this.

City engineer Peter Steblin also will report back on how to cut $250,000 from his budget.

He argued the department has made significant cuts in the last two years and defended the addition of $650,000 to this year's budget for snow removal, noting the city came up $1 million short in snow removal costs last year and $2 million in the red the year before.

A motion to return $200,000 to the budget for sidewalk snow removal -- a cut approved last year -- was defeated by an 11-7 vote.

Snow removel? Who the hell needs snow removal? We made it through much of this week with nary a snowplow in sight much of the time (except for private contractors) .

A controversial cut of $50,000 that will see highrise apartment garbage pickup reduced from twice to once a week also was upheld. Council decided apartments that want to keep the extra pickup will have to pay for it . . .

London's idea of a two tier system - everyone must pay for the public service which exists on paper, but if you want the job done, you must pay again for a private contractor to do it properly.

. . . Coun. Susan Eagle, a vocal advocate for the homeless, expressed relief the city reduced the threatened cut to social housing, but worries the city may still try to sell off the service she argues is a city responsibility . . .

I wouldn't want to give up my monopoly either - hmm, without the homeless being the city's responsibility , the Rev. Eagle might be rendered redundant.

. . . The Middlesex London Health Unit's request for $6 million was deferred, even though it represents no increase over last year's city share of a total $22.3 million budget.

Controller Bud Polhill pushed for the deferral, arguing the provice is kicking in 55 per cent to health units this year, up from 50 per cent. He argued the city's share should drop accordingly.

Whoa! So does 'deferment' of 6 million mean it's part of the budget or not? And who is to decide how much the Middlesex London Anti-individual Rights Unit deserves - the province or the city? and what will they be slipping from your wallet when the time comes?

Bend over Londoners, and don't expect a kiss before or cuddle afterwards . . .