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City struggles to reach targeted zero tax increase

By Kevin Werner
METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP

Hamilton councillors are looking at a 2.8 per cent average tax increase, as their preliminary budget discussions are set to begin over the next few weeks.

Council’s target is a zero per cent budget, a task that will be difficult to achieve since it would mean slicing $24 million in city services and programs, which could mean impacts in police, fire, social services, salaries, and mandated programs.

“We are severely restricted,” said acting general manager of corporate finance Mike Zegarac.

Last year’s average tax increase was 0.9 per cent, while in 2011 the hike was 0.8 per cent.

Still, the proposed 2.8 per cent tax increase is a drop from the original tax hike of 5.5 per cent presented last September. It was further reduced last December to 4.3 per cent.

If council were to approve the budget now, a 2.8 per cent increase would mean the average homeowner would pay an additional $101 in taxes this year.

Boards and agencies are adding a 0.7 per cent increase to the budget, or $21 to the average homeowner. The majority of the cost is related to the Hamilton Police Services. Chief Glenn De Caire is scheduled to present his service’s 2013 budget next month, which asks for a 3.9 per cent increase.

This year’s budget will be without the province’s special social services funding of $2 million, which was halted last year. Over the last seven years, politicians relied on that fund to offset higher social services costs to the city.

Councillors railed at the province for the decision to eliminate it, arguing Hamilton is getting the short end of the stick.

While other municipalities, such as Halton, Peel and York regions benefited financially from the Liberals’ uploading of social services, from $14.9 million to $6.4 million, Hamilton only received $1.4 million in help.

“We are still getting ripped off by the province,” said Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla.

Added Flamborough councillor Judi Partridge, “Unbelievable. It makes your blood boil.”

Councillors are scheduled to deliberate on this year’s budget over the next few weeks, with the goal of approving it by the end of March.

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