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Collins’ sleuthing saves over $3 million

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 Hamilton politicians have edged closer to their zero per cent budget goal for 2014 after a colleague found over $3 million in unused capital money.

After Ward 5 councillor Chad Collin found about $3.3 million in savings from the 2014 capital budget, saving about 0.5 per cent, politicians then used the savings to reduce the levy from 2.8 per cent to 2.3 per cent.

Collins conducted his financial sleuthing in an effort to meet council’s zero per cent tax increase this year. He discovering there was about $50 million earmarked to about 137 projects that council had previous approved, yet the money was just sitting in a fund unused.

“We really have to have policies that start and complete projects in a timely manner,” he said.

For example, council approved $4.8 million for 11 projects in waste management last year, yet only seven per cent of the money has been used, he said. And the department has already asked for $5 million in 2014 for further projects. In another instance, there are six information technology projects approved for capital funding at $1.5 million, which has not been spent in 2013.

“We have a lot of money that is just sitting,” said Collins. “It speaks volumes that we have to improve the budget process.”

In some cases, money that has been targeted for one project is now being spent on a completely different one. For instance, the traffic department will be spending $1.2 million to replace the LED traffic lights in 2014. The money was taken from a road resurfacing fund. It irked councillors that road projects they had wanted complete were told no because the city didn’t have the money.

Approving the $90.1 million capital budget, which is the same as in 2013, will allow city staff to tackle the more contentious operating budget beginning early next year with presentations from various boards and agencies, including the Hamilton Police Services Board.

Both Glanbrook councillor Brenda Johnson and Flamborough councillor Judi Partridge applauded the idea to use the capital savings to reduce the levy since their homeowners are historically the highest taxed in the post-amalgamation area because of area-rating.

“Ward 11 gets hit the hardest,” said Johnson.

Partridge said with the area-rating still being phased in, Flamborough residents have to absorb an extra 1.8 per cent increase on top of whatever levy is eventually approved.

“(Residents) have said to get the (budget) close to zero,” said Partridge.

If the levy was approved now, the average taxpayer would pay an extra $69 in 2014. But politicians are determined to reach zero per cent by next spring.

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