by Kevin Werner Stoney Creek News
Hamilton councillors further reduced the 2020 average tax increase to about 3.2 per cent. There are two more dates set aside for budget discussions with a final approval set for April 1. – Kevin Werner/Torstar
After nearly two months of budget discussions, Hamilton councillors have approved about $9 million in reductions or corresponding revenue increases that have cut the proposed average tax increase for 2020 down to about 3.2 per cent.
But they still have a way to go to get close to last year’s average tax hike of 2.5 per cent.
Councillors made a series of reductions at their Feb. 24 general issues committee meeting totalling about $2.4 million, reducing the average tax hike from 3.4 per cent to about 3.2 per cent.
Councillors began their budget deliberations eyeing a 5.5-per-cent increase.
The cuts included eliminating vacant positions, higher than expected revenues from the airport lease; additional fine revenues from the red light cameras; reducing advertising costs; delaying work until next year and reducing the use of vehicles.
Councillors are still looking at another $500,000 in potential parking rate increases and fine revenue for 2020 as well as another $50,000 in revenue from performing civil marriages, which is expected to be approved later in the budget process.
“It is never easy,” said Mayor Fred Eisenberger, referring to the difficult process of trying to get to the lowest tax increase possible. “While also trying to maintain service. We are looking at a much better number.”
But the propose average tax increase is still problematic for some councillors.
“It’s still too high in my books,” said Flamborough Coun. Judi Partridge.
Partridge’s goal is to get the tax increase down to about 2.5 per cent or lower.
Even if the 2020 budget was approved now, the tax increase would be levied differently across the city depending upon a property’s assessment. The ward average reassessment impacts will range from minus 0.5 per cent to plus two per cent, said Mike Zegarac, corporate services general manager, which could mean some households will be paying a possible six-per-cent tax increase, while others will see a decrease.
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.
To reduce the average tax increase further will mean cutting costs or raising revenue equivalent to $4 million.
Meanwhile a few of the decisions councillors made include:
• Requesting which transit routes are low performing. Ancaster Coun. Lloyd Ferguson said the transit system is moving seven million less passengers than the 10-year transit plan project, yet the community is spending more money on the program. He wants the passenger information so the less used routes can be eliminated this year;
• Councillors agreed in a 10-4 vote to use the tax stabilization fund to pay $990,000 to meet the city’s fifth year of its 10-year transportation master plan. Councillors say since it is unknown when the federal government will provide its share of the transit funding, they don’t want taxpayers paying for something they won’t receive. Councillors in 2017 took a “pause” in funding the plan angering transit activists;
• Councillors in another 10-4 vote rejected a motion introduced by Ward 1 Coun. Maureen Wilson to examine the city’s winter control service standards in an effort to find possible savings. Councillors said a review was conducted during the last term of council and decisions to implement any service changes won’t impact the 2020 budget.
• Councillors also deferred any decision to a later meeting on what, if anything, will be done with the city’s communications department. Coun. Tom Jackson said he wanted to review the information provide to the committee in an effort to find possible savings.
Councillors have two more days set aside in March to discuss the 2020 budget with April 1 scheduled to approve it.