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Zero per cent tax hike still in sight

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 Hamilton politicians have their work cut out for them if they want to reach their 2013 zero per cent tax increase target by next spring.

City finance staff revealed last week the city’s initial average tax increase next year to be 5.5 per cent, based on a house assessed at $258,000.Complicating politicians’ zero per cent goal is the nearly $45 million in financial pressures councillors will have to wrestle with, including $15.6 million in higher salaries, $5 million from boards and agencies’ requests, pricier fuel and utility costs, more risk management claims of $2 million, and $6.8 million in inflationary costs.

The Hamilton Police Service is projecting a proposed 3.5 per cent increase for next year, or $4.7 million hike for its 2013 budget. Councillors will again ask that all boards and agencies introduce budgets with zero per cent increases.

Councillors are also expected to approve a 0.5 per cent levy increase – $3.45 million – that will go towards the city’s capital projects. This will be the third year politicians have approved the increase in an effort to fix the city’s aging infrastructure.

Politicians will also have to decide what to do about $17.5 million in projects and programs they have referred to next year’s budget negotiations. It includes $1.8 million for renovations to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, $1.4 million for storm water maintenance, $1.1 million for road and sidewalks, and $3.8 million that had been removed by the province for Ontario Works recipients.

“It’s good (the preliminary tax) is not 10 per cent,” said Corporate Services General Manager Robert Rossini. “We are starting at five per cent, and not 10 per cent.”

Last year councillors wrestled a potential 7 per cent tax increase down to a record low 0.8 per cent tax hike, the lowest in the city’s post-amalgamation history. In 2010 and 2009 the average tax increase was about two per cent.

For the second year in a row, Rossini confirmedHamiltonwon’t be getting any special social services costs from the provincial government. From 2004 to 2010, the province provided the city with about $70 million to cover downloaded social services cost. Still, the city continues to struggle with additional social services cutbacks from the province.Ontarioofficials recently cut homelessness funding to municipalities, forcing Hamiltonto find up to $7 million to keep needed programs available next year. In addition Ontario Works case loads have jumped by 40 per cent since the recession began.

“There are no special grants this year,” said Rossini.

It is also unknown how muchHamiltonwill receive in slot revenues for 2013. The Slots at Racetrack program is scheduled to end March 31, 2013. This year Hamilton received $4.4 million.

Councillors are scheduled to discuss the 2013 budget forecast at their second budget workshop Sept. 28 in the council chambers.

 

 

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