Potential job losses, and a sudden illness, lead to tax target stalemate
London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
Momentum seems to be moving inevitably towards a budget target of zero per cent, but any decision will have to come at the next council meeting.
During their regular meeting Tuesday (June 26), councillors found their budget target deliberations at the same stalemate as the night before, but this time it was due to the absence of a different proponent of the much-debated tax freeze.
Discussions began on setting a budget target following the council’s return from the dinner break, a request made because as Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Orser was said to be feeling ill. He didn’t remain long, leaving long before a motion to set the city’s tax target at zero per cent was voted on.
Orser’s absence, as was the case the night before when Ward 10 Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen missed the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee due to personal reasons, resulted in a tie 7-7 vote, which counts as a loss. However, council procedure means all issues that end in a tie votes have to be referred to the next meeting — in this case — July 24.
Among those supporting the zero target was Van Meerbergen, who said, at the end of the day, London residents need more disposable income in their pockets and are still expecting a tax freeze.
“The fact of the matter is the people of London have an expectation that we try (for zero per cent). We are talking about setting a target. We are in June 2012; we are talking about the 2013 budget that is set the end of March,” Van Meerbergen. “The expectation is to go for it. That we would say to people we won’t even try, where does this thinking come from?”
Many, including Ward 3 Councillor Joe Swan, reflected Van Meerbergen’s sentiments. Swan picked up on the feelings of others on council who felt too many of their colleagues believe zero will just magically happen.
Swan disagreed with this, adding he was more than willing to do what was necessary to at least attempt to reach a zero target.
“I respectfully suggest I would chair a committee with a zero per cent mandate and I am sure we could deliver. But you have to have the will, you have to have the determination,” Swan said. “We will roll up our sleeves, we will do the hard work, we will look for innovation, we will look for revenue growth. We don’t expect taxpayers to just keep writing cheques at four per cent higher than last year. They don’t want to pay more for the same service.”
Swan said zero is a target “that can be achieved by those who are willing.” However, several members of council were prepared to say there are dire consequences to a zero per cent budget, or even a target with that expectation.
Ward 2 Councillor Bill Armstrong, as he did the night before, was among the most vocal about the impact zero per cent could have.
“The millions and millions of dollars that aren’t going to be there can only equate into major layoffs the likes of which London has never seen before in our public service,” Armstrong said. “The potential for these layoffs, especially in these times, it is a worry for people. I think the impact on services we provide this community will be huge. I think people will be disappointed if zero is the number of the day.”
Ward 8 Councillor Paul Hubert said his constituents asked him, and the rest of council, to find greater efficiencies and be fiscally responsible, but not to “slash the quality of life in our city.”
Ward 6 Councillor Nancy Branscombe, who agreed the zero target ultimate speaks to the quality of life London residents expect, mirrored those thoughts.
“The magnitude of what we are speaking about is $25 million in cuts from operations,” Branscombe said. “That will mean, without a shadow of a doubt, massive layoffs, no community funding, no new projects. There will be no economic development . . . there will be no money for it.”
Branscombe also put forward an amendment that if the zero per cent target is adopted, that council commit to not utilizing reserve funds to fix any potential shortfall. As with the target vote that followed it, this motion failed in a 7-7 vote and will be referred to council’s July 24 meeting.
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