Politicians test their mettle in budget talks

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

Even before politicians sat down to begin the first full day of their 2006 budget discussions, they discovered the average tax increase for residents had dropped to about 7.8 per cent from the 12 per cent projection staff had proposed two months ago.

But the $45-million deficit, which translates into an average property tax increase of more than 7 per cent still remains too high for councillors to approve, said Mayor Larry Di Ianni.

"We have a significant amount of work to do over a month or so," he said. "The public is asking us to bring in a tax structure that is fair."

Most councillors are talking about a tax increase for their constituents no greater than the cost of living, which is between 2 per cent and 3 per cent.

Shaving anywhere from 4 per cent to 5 per cent from the average tax increase will still test politicians' mettle, as Hamilton's senior staff unveiled their wish lists during presentations this week.

Councillors have already pre-approved about $12.6 million in expenses for next year, such as money to pay for the introduction of the green cart program in April, 2006, and the construction of re-use centres in Dundas and Hamilton. The mayor will also be requesting about $25 million from the provincial government to offset the city's social services costs. And rising nearly out of control is the city's maintenance budget which has jumped by $17.2 million due to fuel, salaries, benefits and other utility costs.

If the province provides the city with about $11.7 million in social services costs, nearly the same as last year, for instance, the tax increase will be about 5.5 per cent. City staff, though, are hoping the provincial government will adopt a more sustainable solution to the vexing problem of how to pay for social services by removing the cost entirely from municipalities' property taxes. It would mean a reduction for Hamilton of about $15 million, resulting in an average tax increase for residents of about 4.9 per cent, a manageable budget figure for politicians to handle, say city staff.

Di Ianni assured councillors he has contacted provincial officials about the city's financial plight and will be making a formal presentation to them soon. A decision by the province won't happen, he said, until early next year.

During the sometimes testy six-hour meeting, politicians were eyeing every expense and questioning nearly all additions to each department's budget.

Dundas councillor Art Samson, for instance, castigated the Hamilton Conservation Authority for asking the city to fund a 4.7 per cent budget increase - from $4.4 million in 2005, to $4.6 million - even after city officials told all boards and agencies to request no increase beyond the cost of living.

"That is completely unacceptable," said Samson. "Three per cent is the maximum. (Even) if we allow 3 per cent, it will gradually creep up. The taxpayer doesn't understand it. I don't understand it."

The city's boards and agencies, such as the Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facility Inc., Go Transit, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Opera Hamilton, the Festival of Friends, are collectively asking for a 5.2 per cent funding increase, or an extra $1.9 million for next year.

Councillors also zeroed in on the more troublesome issue of the sorry state of Hamilton's roads. A city report card, developed by the public works staff, recently gave the road network a 'D.'

Gerry Davis, director of capital planning and implementation, said it will take until 2014 and cost taxpayers between $115 million and $150 million, before the roads meet even the proper city requirements.

"The condition of the roads will continue to decrease," he said.

City staff are expected to make future budget presentations next week.

A special meeting has been set aside for January 9 for the public to address any budget issues. Then there are seven meetings scheduled during January for politicians to deliberate on the budget.

City Manager Glen Peace has scheduled a special council meeting for January 31 to approve the 2006 budget.

If councillors support the budget recommendations in January, it would be the earliest a city budget has ever been finalized.

Usually councillors don't get around to approving a budget until April or May, due in most part to waiting to see whether the province will provide extra funding necessary to reduce the city's deficit.

Politicians test their mettle in budget talks

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

Even before politicians sat down to begin the first full day of their 2006 budget discussions, they discovered the average tax increase for residents had dropped to about 7.8 per cent from the 12 per cent projection staff had proposed two months ago.

But the $45-million deficit, which translates into an average property tax increase of more than 7 per cent still remains too high for councillors to approve, said Mayor Larry Di Ianni.

"We have a significant amount of work to do over a month or so," he said. "The public is asking us to bring in a tax structure that is fair."

Most councillors are talking about a tax increase for their constituents no greater than the cost of living, which is between 2 per cent and 3 per cent.

Shaving anywhere from 4 per cent to 5 per cent from the average tax increase will still test politicians' mettle, as Hamilton's senior staff unveiled their wish lists during presentations this week.

Councillors have already pre-approved about $12.6 million in expenses for next year, such as money to pay for the introduction of the green cart program in April, 2006, and the construction of re-use centres in Dundas and Hamilton. The mayor will also be requesting about $25 million from the provincial government to offset the city's social services costs. And rising nearly out of control is the city's maintenance budget which has jumped by $17.2 million due to fuel, salaries, benefits and other utility costs.

If the province provides the city with about $11.7 million in social services costs, nearly the same as last year, for instance, the tax increase will be about 5.5 per cent. City staff, though, are hoping the provincial government will adopt a more sustainable solution to the vexing problem of how to pay for social services by removing the cost entirely from municipalities' property taxes. It would mean a reduction for Hamilton of about $15 million, resulting in an average tax increase for residents of about 4.9 per cent, a manageable budget figure for politicians to handle, say city staff.

Di Ianni assured councillors he has contacted provincial officials about the city's financial plight and will be making a formal presentation to them soon. A decision by the province won't happen, he said, until early next year.

During the sometimes testy six-hour meeting, politicians were eyeing every expense and questioning nearly all additions to each department's budget.

Dundas councillor Art Samson, for instance, castigated the Hamilton Conservation Authority for asking the city to fund a 4.7 per cent budget increase - from $4.4 million in 2005, to $4.6 million - even after city officials told all boards and agencies to request no increase beyond the cost of living.

"That is completely unacceptable," said Samson. "Three per cent is the maximum. (Even) if we allow 3 per cent, it will gradually creep up. The taxpayer doesn't understand it. I don't understand it."

The city's boards and agencies, such as the Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facility Inc., Go Transit, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Opera Hamilton, the Festival of Friends, are collectively asking for a 5.2 per cent funding increase, or an extra $1.9 million for next year.

Councillors also zeroed in on the more troublesome issue of the sorry state of Hamilton's roads. A city report card, developed by the public works staff, recently gave the road network a 'D.'

Gerry Davis, director of capital planning and implementation, said it will take until 2014 and cost taxpayers between $115 million and $150 million, before the roads meet even the proper city requirements.

"The condition of the roads will continue to decrease," he said.

City staff are expected to make future budget presentations next week.

A special meeting has been set aside for January 9 for the public to address any budget issues. Then there are seven meetings scheduled during January for politicians to deliberate on the budget.

City Manager Glen Peace has scheduled a special council meeting for January 31 to approve the 2006 budget.

If councillors support the budget recommendations in January, it would be the earliest a city budget has ever been finalized.

Usually councillors don't get around to approving a budget until April or May, due in most part to waiting to see whether the province will provide extra funding necessary to reduce the city's deficit.

Politicians test their mettle in budget talks

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

Even before politicians sat down to begin the first full day of their 2006 budget discussions, they discovered the average tax increase for residents had dropped to about 7.8 per cent from the 12 per cent projection staff had proposed two months ago.

But the $45-million deficit, which translates into an average property tax increase of more than 7 per cent still remains too high for councillors to approve, said Mayor Larry Di Ianni.

"We have a significant amount of work to do over a month or so," he said. "The public is asking us to bring in a tax structure that is fair."

Most councillors are talking about a tax increase for their constituents no greater than the cost of living, which is between 2 per cent and 3 per cent.

Shaving anywhere from 4 per cent to 5 per cent from the average tax increase will still test politicians' mettle, as Hamilton's senior staff unveiled their wish lists during presentations this week.

Councillors have already pre-approved about $12.6 million in expenses for next year, such as money to pay for the introduction of the green cart program in April, 2006, and the construction of re-use centres in Dundas and Hamilton. The mayor will also be requesting about $25 million from the provincial government to offset the city's social services costs. And rising nearly out of control is the city's maintenance budget which has jumped by $17.2 million due to fuel, salaries, benefits and other utility costs.

If the province provides the city with about $11.7 million in social services costs, nearly the same as last year, for instance, the tax increase will be about 5.5 per cent. City staff, though, are hoping the provincial government will adopt a more sustainable solution to the vexing problem of how to pay for social services by removing the cost entirely from municipalities' property taxes. It would mean a reduction for Hamilton of about $15 million, resulting in an average tax increase for residents of about 4.9 per cent, a manageable budget figure for politicians to handle, say city staff.

Di Ianni assured councillors he has contacted provincial officials about the city's financial plight and will be making a formal presentation to them soon. A decision by the province won't happen, he said, until early next year.

During the sometimes testy six-hour meeting, politicians were eyeing every expense and questioning nearly all additions to each department's budget.

Dundas councillor Art Samson, for instance, castigated the Hamilton Conservation Authority for asking the city to fund a 4.7 per cent budget increase - from $4.4 million in 2005, to $4.6 million - even after city officials told all boards and agencies to request no increase beyond the cost of living.

"That is completely unacceptable," said Samson. "Three per cent is the maximum. (Even) if we allow 3 per cent, it will gradually creep up. The taxpayer doesn't understand it. I don't understand it."

The city's boards and agencies, such as the Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facility Inc., Go Transit, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Opera Hamilton, the Festival of Friends, are collectively asking for a 5.2 per cent funding increase, or an extra $1.9 million for next year.

Councillors also zeroed in on the more troublesome issue of the sorry state of Hamilton's roads. A city report card, developed by the public works staff, recently gave the road network a 'D.'

Gerry Davis, director of capital planning and implementation, said it will take until 2014 and cost taxpayers between $115 million and $150 million, before the roads meet even the proper city requirements.

"The condition of the roads will continue to decrease," he said.

City staff are expected to make future budget presentations next week.

A special meeting has been set aside for January 9 for the public to address any budget issues. Then there are seven meetings scheduled during January for politicians to deliberate on the budget.

City Manager Glen Peace has scheduled a special council meeting for January 31 to approve the 2006 budget.

If councillors support the budget recommendations in January, it would be the earliest a city budget has ever been finalized.

Usually councillors don't get around to approving a budget until April or May, due in most part to waiting to see whether the province will provide extra funding necessary to reduce the city's deficit.