By Kevin Werner
METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
Hamilton politicians are proposing to raise taxes by 1 per cent to keep the city’s social services discretionary benefits for vulnerable individuals from being slashed.
“It’s not a significant increase to home- owners,” said Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark, who proposed the idea during a special emergency and community services committee meeting Nov. 1. “It is the right thing to do for the city.”
The city is facing provincial cuts to various social service discretionary benefits, including funerals, prosthetics and adult dental care. But if the city doesn’t find about $3.75 million for 2013, benefits such as the adult day program, utility arrears, affordable transit pass, and layettes will be gone.
Councillors lashed out at the provincial government for cutting the social services funding earlier this year without talking to municipalities or social service agencies.
“The province has put us in an impossible situation,” said Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie.
Social service advocates urged councillors to preserve the discretionary social service benefits. They said the cuts will affect people who are living day-to-day, and desperately need the services. For instance, instead of providing funerals for people, the city would be forced to simply dispose of the body without consulting the family. Adult day cares across the city would be forced to tell people not to attend, a “devastating” situation, said Trish Balardo, executive director for the Seniors Activation Maintenance program.
Deirdre Pike, of Hamilton Organizing for Poverty Elimination, said the idea to keep the 2013 budget at zero per cent is untenable in the face of social service cuts to nearly 100,000 people facing poverty issues.
“(Raising taxes) is a good social response,” said Pike. “We really need to challenge people to step up.”
The provincial government announced earlier this year it was capping Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program at $10 per social assistance case, resulting in $1.8 million this year, and $3.75 million next year in added costs to the city. The province has also slashed funding to the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit of about $7.2 million. Under the province’s social services re-organization, municipalities need to have a new program in place by Jan. 1, 2013. Politicians agreed in September to fund the program for the rest of this year. If both programs are placed on the 2013 levy, it will add 1 per cent to the average homeowner’s tax bill.
“Our flexibility to fund (social services) from reserves is difficult,” said corporate services general manager Rob Rossini. “
For some councillors, staff’s proposal to cut benefits remained unpalatable. The committee deferred the issue until Nov. 7.