By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton councillors added over $2 million to the city’s 2014 budget, but there are some politicians who are promising to slice into the proposed 1.5 per cent average tax increase.
Politicians at their March 20 budget committee meeting approved almost $1.2 million in enhanced transit service to the mountain and upper Stoney Creek. In addition, they agreed to just over $800,000 in net costs that will see the city hire 20 more people for various programs and service, with the largest enhancement for ambulances. The result is a 1.5 per cent average tax increase for homeowners for the 2014 budget.
If politicians approve the budget at their March 26 council meeting, it will mean an additional $53 to an average household’s property tax bill.
Still, some councillors say they can reduce that tax increase further to mollify beleaguered suburban homeowners who will face higher taxes because of area rating.
For instance, says Flamborough councillor Judi Partridge, for her residents if the tax increase remains as is, it will mean a 3.4 per cent increase. And for Glanbrook residents, they will see a 4.5 per cent jump.
“I’m not prepared for higher taxes,” said Partridge.
Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead also refused to support the budget once councillors had completed their agenda. He said there were some areas that could be cut further to whittle down the 1.5 per cent increase.
“I’m still looking at some parts of the budget to reduce it further,” he said.
The committee decided to simply refer the budget recommendation to council for consideration.
In 2013 councillors approved a 1.9 per cent average tax increase. Over the last four years the average tax increase forHamiltonresidents has been 1.5 per cent.
Other politicians were willing to approve what they had argued was a difficult budget after the work they had done over the last three months. Mountain councillor Tom Jackson said he was “satisfied” with the budget, while Stoney Creek councillor Maria Pearson called the lower tax increase from last year “good news” for homeowners.
Politicians at the started of the budget deliberations had indicated they wanted to get to a zero per cent tax increase, or as close as possible to the target.
Meanwhile, in an effort to mitigate the rising number of Code Zero periods within the city, councillors reluctantly agreed to beef up the city’s ambulance service by nearly $270,000. The province is paying the other half of the $540,000 bill. A Code Zero is when there are no ambulances available to respond to an emergency medical situation.
It will mean hiring another 11 full-time people to the emergency department. Once councillors approve the budget, the additional resources could be in place by April, said Michael Sanderson, Emergency Medical Services chief.
Sanderson said the number of Code Zeroes over the last year has increased.
“It’s not a perfect solution, but it will help immensely,” said Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark.
Whitehead didn’t want to bail out the province from providing more funding to what politicians see is an Ontario responsibility.
“The province does not take any step,” he said. “By saying yes, I’m letting (the province) off the hook.”
Other funding areas councillors agreed to at their meeting included $300,000 for storm water maintenance; $60,000 to review the city’s zoning bylaw applications; $50,000 provided to Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion; and $65,000 to keep subsidizing the Adult Day Program user fees.