By Kevin Werner
METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
Hamilton councillors have plenty of work ahead if they are to match their record low tax increases approved the last few years, in the 2013 budget.
Corporate services general manager Robert Rossini, who is leaving Hamilton for a position at the City of Toronto starting in the new year, presented a preliminary 3.6 per cent average tax increase to politicians on Dec. 7.
The potential hike represents a significant drop from the 5.5 per cent tax increase first presented to councillors in September. If the tax rate were approved today, $104 would be added to the average homeowner’s tax bill.
Since 2011, the average tax increase for city residents has been less than 1 per cent, while in 2010 the tax hike was 2 per cent.
Councillors have already set a zero per cent tax increase goal.
The preliminary tax increase doesn’t include about $6 million in council-related enhancements that, if approved, will push the average tax increase up by 1 per cent.
The tax hike includes a 2.3 per cent increase for all city departments and a 0.8 per cent jump for boards and agencies, with the Hamilton Police Service request for more than $7.1 million eating up most of that chunk. There is also a 0.5 per cent increase in capital funding for infrastructure upgrades.
Finance staff is assuming a 1 per cent increase in assessment growth for 2013.
“We are trending in the right direction,” said Rossini.
Still, the city continues to be buffeted by financial pressures, including $3.3 million in winter control costs, $3 million for fuel and another $2.3 million for Disabled and Aged Regional Transportation System (DARTS) to accommodate the provincial government’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
The largest bite taken out of the city’s costs remains salaries and benefits, which consume more than 80 per cent of the city’s $1.1-billion budget.
While the city’s departmental budgets have increased 12 per cent from 2008 to 2012, the police service’s budget has ballooned by 20 per cent during the same period. And even though councillors were poised to recover some costs by hiking user fees at their Dec. 12 council meeting, Rossini said the money will go towards replenishing the planning department’s fee stabilizing reserve fund.
Budget deliberations are scheduled to begin in January.