by Kevin Werner hamiltonnews.com
Hamilton councillors are targetting an average tax increase below three per cent for the 2020 budget. Currently, the hike is 3.5 per cent. – Kevin Werner/Torstar
Hamilton councillors refused to expand a number of services until they can get the 2020 average tax increase below its current 3.5 per cent level.
Most councillors at the Feb. 7 budget meeting were reluctant to add additional service enhancements, such as hiring a cigarette butt bylaw officer, increase fire service, expand the sidewalk snow-clearing program, enhance the living wage for summer students, or deal with climate change issues. If all of the 13 items under consideration were approved, it would mean increasing the budget by $5 million and boosting the proposed average tax increase to about four per cent while hiring 15.5 more full-time employees.
Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins said even though the proposed budget is at 3.5 per cent — a reduction from 5.5 per cent from last fall — it still means that, because of property reassessment, some residents will see tax increases in 2020 of up to six per cent.
“I won’t be supporting any increases today until we bring the number down under three per cent,” said Collins.
Flamborough Coun. Judi Partridge, who has also been a tax-increase opponent over the years, echoed Collins’ sentiments. Flamborough residents usually see higher taxes than the average tax that is passed annually by council because of higher assessment rates on their homes.
Partridge said her goal is to get the average tax increase down to 2.5 per cent.
Ancaster Coun. Lloyd Ferguson has also been adamant about cutting taxes as low as possible for his residents who pay higher property bills because of their reassessments than other homeowners across the city.
“I’m not on for any enhancements while we are sitting at 3.5 per cent,” he said.
To get below the three per cent, councillors will have to cut at least $4.2 million from the budget, said Collins.
“That is a lot of service reductions,” he said. “It’s premature to talk about service enhancements until we go as far as we can.”
Councillors in 2019 approved a 2.5-per-cent average tax increase, which equates to an $88 annual increase for the average home assessed at $358,600.
Meanwhile, councillors are still on schedule to approve the 2020 budget on April 1. But they are expected to have a few more difficult decisions to make before then.
They are scheduled to discuss possible snow-clearing expansion, including examining requests from Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark and Dundas Coun. Arlene VanderBeek to identify how much it would cost their residents to have their sidewalks cleared of snow. The service is area-rated, which means only the residents in that area would pay for the service. Currently, only Ancaster residents receive sidewalk snow clearing.
Expanding the service could cost between $3 million to $5.3 million depending upon how many kilometres of sidewalk are cleared. Any expanding snow-clearing program would be ready for the 2020-21 season.
In addition, councillors will be listening to at least 16 delegates to the budget committee Feb. 10, with most of them talking about the sidewalk snow-clearing program.
Advocates are also urging councillors to approve enhancing the living wage rate of $15.85 for casual and summer students that would cost in 2020 about $292,500. Councillors agreed in 2019 to implement a living wage rate for school crossing guards at the rate of $15.85 per hour.
Poverty activists have been calling on the city to adopt the new living wage rate of $16.45 per hour for all non-union part-time staff and summer students for both the city and the Hamilton Public Library at a cost of $877,660. Staff have suggested phasing in the plan to mitigate the financial impact.