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Jan 15, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Public gets another say prior to budget deliberations

London Community News

During Saturday’s Build a Budget workshops, participant Oliver Hobson said he was encouraged by the large turnout and that he hoped councillors would listen and consider everything the public had to say.

Hobson brought that same message to the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee meeting on Monday (Jan. 14), which once again gave the public the opportunity to have their say around the 2013 budget deliberations. Hobson was one of 18 people having their say on the budget, including 11 presentations on the meeting agenda by individuals speaking either on behalf of themselves or while representing numerous local organizations.

“Everything that has been said has been said better than I could in some instances,” said Hobson following the speakers on the agenda. “I just hope it doesn’t fall on deaf ears so good luck in your decision making.”

And councillors will have a lot of decisions to make between now and the end of February when they will vote on acceptance of the 2013 budget.

During Monday’s meeting, a variety of speakers focused on specific issues ranging from library services and transportation options to support for public and affordable housing to funding for the city’s emerald ash borer strategy.

One presentation brought together three of the city’s most high-profile supporters of those most in need in the community — Pillar Nonprofit Network, United Way London & Middlesex and London Community Foundation (LCF). Michelle Baldwin, Pillar executive director, spoke on behalf of the group, but was joined by Andrew Lockie, CEO United Way London and Middlesex, and Martha Powell, LCF president and CEO.

Baldwin said the three organizations support over 1,200 nonprofits in the London area who contribute “to the quality of life and social well-being” of London residents. Should some of the cuts that have been speculated on in recent weeks come to pass, Baldwin said, the city’s most vulnerable would be put at the greatest risk.

“A reduction in programs and services does not reduce the need for these services,” Baldwin said. “But rather shifts the burden of the tax base to the nonprofit sector, which is already under-resourced and has had increased service demands due to the economic times.”

Baldwin’s presentation stated the nonprofit sector’s hopes council would reconsider proposed reductions in support to affordable housing and the city’s capital grant program.

The point Baldwin made around funding cuts — one that was also referenced by Deb Lowery, president of Friends of the London Library, Abe Oudshoorn, speaking for the London Homeless Coalition, and others — led to what Mayor Joe Fontana called “clarification” around the options council is considering.

Fontana said that in all 59 business cases council will be examining, “in no case” is the plan to cut from 2012 budget levels. Rather, Fontana said council would look at the reasons for increases in 2013, whether it is to deal with issues such as inflation or to afford increases in collective agreements.

“In all cases, when I hear the word drastic cuts, big budget cuts, no one is being cut from what they had last year,” Fontana said. “If you are asking for more money from the people of London, what are you going to do with it? Can you provide the same level of service, better levels of service, or if there is impact, what will that impact be?”

Another speaker, Sean Quigley, executive director of Emerging Leaders, said the organization wished council luck in its deliberations and added that council had their support. Quigley said that support also extends to a variety of services Emerging Leaders considers vital, including things like public transit, libraries, arts and heritage initiatives, support for the city’s most vulnerable and newcomers and the creation of better opportunities for entrepreneurs.

However, a key concern, Quigley said remains retention of the city’s young talent in the 20-44 age demographic.

“What we have found is that we don’t have a unified approach to talent retention in London yet. We are beginning to have those conversations,” said Quigley, who also reinforced there is no one solution to talent retention.

“If there was one magic bullet answer I would be a wealthy man. This is a multi-dimensional problem,” Quigley said. “There is making sure things are efficient, which is laudable. But there is also the fact of what is the quality of life and what are the supports of that quality of life so young people feel attracted to be here.”

During his presentation, Oudshoorn also spoke out on the need to sufficiently support both public and affordable housing. The two issues, which have been inaccurately used interchangeably in past budget discussions, have been supported not only by the Oudshoorn and other coalition members, but also by councillors and members of the public as well.

Other speakers included former councillor Sandy Levin, ReForest London executive director Dean Sheppard, Bill Tufts, from Fair Pensions for All, Stephen Turner from the Urban League of London and Tanya Park, president of the SoHo Community Association.

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