London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
London Mayor Joe Fontana has long said the third and fourth year of his promised zero tax freeze would be fueled by the city’s growing economy.
The mayor stood by his position during the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee meeting on Monday (April 30), but was open to listening to the impact of that promise before setting this year’s budget target. Faced with a staff recommendation of a 3.8 per cent budget target for 2013, Fontana said he remembers listening to people for the past two years say zero per cent wouldn’t be possible without significant service cuts.
“We worked hard. We managed to find the money, (with) no service cuts. I hear the same sort of discussions today. You can’t fight for zero and then say 3.8 per cent next year, plus water and sewer. Give me a break. That would be folly,” Fontana said. “In my opinion . . . this city needs to focus as much on revenues and how we are going to build our assessment base.”
The members would eventually vote to support a process that has the intention of moving towards zero. Further amendments would also allow for scenarios around the impact of 3.8 per cent, zero percent, a compromise of two per cent, all without utilizing what Ward 7 Councillor Matt Brown described as “cuts to core services.” Brown would eventual move that provision be included in the motion that councillors accepted.
Martin Hayward, city treasurer and chief financial officer, presented a report to the committee that forecast a take hike, based on civic departments, boards and commissions and outside agencies, which would require a 5.5 per cent increase. Such a budget would require very little, Hayward said, in significant cuts.
However, knowing that would never be accepted, Hayward’s report pointed to a 3.8 per cent tax hike that would require approximately $8 million in cuts to achieve. To achieve the zero per cent, the report states, would require a $25.6 million cut to existing civic services.
Most civic departments and boards and commissions would be faced with an 11.6 per cent reduction to absorbed targeted increases in areas such as police (3.5 per cent), fire (three per cent), London Transit (5.7 per cent), and London and Middlesex Housing Corporation (6.2 per cent).
Possible service cuts would be found, the report suggests, in the areas of culture (cutting hours of library and Museum London operation), economic prosperity (reducing support for the convention centre, Tourism London and the London Economic Development Corporation), environmental services (re-evaluating levels of waste disposal and collection), parks and recreation (reducing programs or increasing the price to participate), and transportation services (increasing parking frees and re-examining road maintenance standards).
As the city does not yet know what the exact impact of either the zero per cent freeze, or any potential tax hike, Ward 5 Councillor Joni Baechler suggested putting off the setting of the 2013 departmental budget targets until boards and commissions could return with reports around the impact of the three possible scenarios.
“The key point is the implications. We don’t know what the implications are of any of these targets. The 3.8 (per cent) is still a cut of $8 million,” Baechler said. “I think only then can we really understand what the implications are of what we are dealing with. After we have had the discussion with the boards and commissions, I think we can move forward. I don’t think anyone around the council horseshoe appreciated how things went last year.”
Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Orser was among those supporting the continued effort to reach a third consecutive zero per cent freeze, adding it is what the people of his ward continue to tell him they want.
“People do believe since we have done it once, since we have done it twice, we can do it a third time,” Orser said. “If that is possible, we shouldn’t shut that door, we should aim for it first.”
Brown’s amendment to ensure there were not cuts to the city’s core services was of concern to Ward 12 Councillor Harold Usher. Usher said adding that point could potentially limit council’s ability to reach its expressed commitment to reach the zero per cent freeze.
“I think we need to look at the implications. And if the implications say any of these affect core services, then we deal with it,” Usher said. “But if we tie the hands right now, when we are giving these three different scenarios, then I am not sure what we are going to get.”
When asked to clarify council’s options, Hayward said councillors should be clear that even though it is difficult to define core and non-core services, any of the three budget scenarios would include some level of cuts.
Ethnic diversity for library board
At the end of a nearly seven-hour meeting, the committee still managed to make a significant decision in support of ethnic diversity.
In replacing the outgoing Jan Lubell from the London Public Library Board, Usher pushed strongly for the appointment German Gutierrez. Gutierrez’s Latino background, Usher said, would be a significant addition to a board that has not included a visible minority since 1994.
The committee supported Gutierrez appointment by an 8-5 vote.
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