Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson says his colleagues have a ways to go to reduce the 2013 budget down to last year’s 0.9 per cent average tax increase.
Politicians were scheduled to look at reducing this year’s proposed 2.2 per cent average tax increase, or an extra $75 per household, at their March 7 budget meeting, potentially the highest since 2010’s 2 per cent tax hike.
“We still have to get down lower than that,” said Ferguson. “I want to get it back to below one per cent.”
In 2011, Hamilton politicians passed the lowest average tax increase in the city’s post-amalgamation history at 0.8 per cent, and followed that up last year with a 0.9 per cent tax hike. But Ferguson said the city has seen higher than expected costs for transit projects, diesel fuel, on-going expenses to implement the province’s mandated Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requirements, and continuing to fund the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System.
“Fuel is a very significant cost,” said Ferguson, especially for the city’s transit fleet.
At the last budget meeting Feb. 28, the councillor asked city staff to review the impact of a 5 cent, 10 cent, and 15 cent fare increase would have on the budget. Although councillors agreed to the motion, they have already stated there won’t be a fare increase this year. Ferguson expects the staff report will reveal Hamilton has one of the lowest transit fares in the province, and since transit is eating up a large portion of the city’s budget this year it should pay its share.
“The low hanging fruit has already been picked,” he said.
Ferguson is also wary of approving the Hamilton Police Service’s proposed 3.71 tax increase this year.
“I’ve been pushing back on this,” said Ferguson. “I’m not sure where the end is on this stuff.”
He told members of his Ancaster Community Council politicians are more than likely to send the police budget back to the Police Services Board for further review. The Police have already revved down its budget request from just over 5 per cent to 3.9 per cent.
Meanwhile, councillors last week made just over $4 million in budget cuts, but they still have to decide on whether to include almost $5 million in council referred items in this year’s budget. If they were all approved, it would mean this year’s tax hike would be 2.8 per cent.
“It’s a real battle,” said Ferguson. “I hate budget time. It’s a long, long grind.”
Politicians have scheduled another budget meeting March 21, with a March 27 council meeting set aside to approve this year’s budget.