City council curbed additional tax increases, opting rather for transfers from reserves and asking departments to tighten their belts to help balance the books in 2017.
Council was forced to sort out the ramifications of a nearly $2.1 million shortfall in revenue that was handed down to the city thanks to the provincial budget.
“We are not happy, but I don’t want to put the pain on our taxpayers. I am warning them though that in 2018, I don’t think we are going to be able to do this,” Mayor Greg Dionne said during the meeting.
Council members made it quite apparent of their discontent with government moves, with two launching into monologues on the topic at separate times during their budget committee meeting Tuesday night.
Transferring $1 million from last year’s surplus, redirecting around $300,000 from reserve transfers and finding further cost-saving measures in a number of departments totalling over $600,000, council was able to retain the initially promised city tax increase of 1.5 per cent, passing an amended 2017 operating budget of $1.9 million.
Dionne and other council members made note this was in stark contrast to other cities around the province that are being forced to hike tax rates to cover costs.
Some though, such as Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick, were hesitant to dip into the rainy day funds, wanting rather to pin an additional tax on bills.
This comment received various arguments, as the downloading of one million dollars onto taxpayers would result in a three or four per cent tax increase.
“We looked at the other cities. It is easy to say just increase taxes, it is easy to say that. Just put your hand up, it is easy to do that. To me, that is not what it is about. To me, there is just so much you can pay,” Dionne said.
“We have lots of issues, so if there is anytime we should not be increasing taxes, it is now because everyone is in dire straights.”
Just prior to the final vote on the budget, there was one final comment that arose when Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp proposed rolling back the one per cent pay wage and reinstating the originally promised two per cent raise for out of scope staff, costing $133,600.
Lennox-Zepp argued a one per cent increase didn't meet inflation.
This was rebutted by numerous members, saying the blame to roll back pay increases did not lie with council, rather with the provincial government.
“I agree, that is what we did approve in 2017. But then along came March, and things changed,” Dionne said. “As a city, we are all going to take the pain.”
Dionne also reaffirmed none of the department cuts or transfers would result in long-term impacts or concerns. The mayor added there was still roughly $15 to $16 million in the account, and most of the money transfered was found elsewhere or came in from union contracts, workers compensation and revenue sharing.
“It really was a bonus. I believe this was the time to use it," Dionne said. "Can we do it every year? Absolutely not.”
Departments asked to find savings or additional revenue included the fire and police departments, and though difficult, both have promised there wouldn’t be impacts to public safety or service levels.
The community services department was asked to find savings of over $200,000, but were able to keep funding for the pest control and anti-graffiti programs.
Financial services were asked to find just over $121,000, opting to increase parking tickets and metre per hour charges from $1.00 to $1.25. These will begin July 1, 2017.
Though the 2017 operations funding has been found, this was only round one for the city, as they are soon scheduled to hit the drawing board for budget 2018, months before they usually get the process underway.
“We have to deal with the $3 million shortfalls we will have in 2018 and then we have to continue on business in 2018,” Dionne said. “In 2018 we are going to work hard…but sometimes we get things dropped on us that are out of our control.”
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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