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Getting down to the nitty gritty in city budget deliberations

Currently sitting at 3.08 per cent with some additional items still to be added, but there are tools for lowering it too
20160201 Guelph City Hall Sign KA
GuelphToday file photo

It remains to be seen if city council will be able to keep next year's budget increase under 3 per cent, as it has done four of the past six years.

Council heard staff present its proposed 2020 tax supported operating budget on Monday. Wednesday the local boards and shared services budgets will be presented.

The tax increase currently sits at 3.08 per cent.

Still to be determined are any increases related to hiring new staff to operate new buses purchased last year and how the council will handle a request from Guelph General Hospital for $4.5 million.

Last year council went into decision night sitting at 3.63 per cent and ended up at 2.69 per cent.

In fact four of the past six tax increases have been below 3 per cent:  2.69 (2019), 2.95 (2018), 3.13 (2017), 2.99 (2016), 3.55 (2015) and 2.38 (2014).

Getting it under 3 per cent this year could be tough, particularly with staff seeking an additional $1.72 million for new Guelph Transit hires. That, and even spreading outthe Guelph General request over five years, could see an additional 0.84 per cent added to the 2020 increase.

Those two items will be discussed at the Nov. 25 regular meeting of council.

Mayor Cam Guthrie also noted that the request for funding to help pay for the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness initiatives implemented this year will likely be in excess of the $300,000 the city contributed this year.

There are options available for reducing the budget.

The city has a $2.2 million operating surplus from 2019, coun. June Hofland has asked staff to come back with some numbers and implications of cutting sidewalk plowing and there are reserve funds that could be used to reduce tax impact.

But it was noted that council has looked at removing sidewalk plowing in the past and it was determined that once all things were considered it wouldn’t save that much money. There are also liability issues to consider.

“Let’s see how that all plays out at the end of the night,” the mayor said of the $2.2 million surplus from last year being on the table.

Coun. Dan Gibson noted that he had some concerns with the $1.72 million ask for additional transit staff given the level of service increase it would mean.

He and other councillors have noted they might rather see an extension of an existing route to service the Hanlon Creek Business Park rather than a new route established, at least until ridership increases.

On Nov. 27 council will hear registered delegates on the tax supported operating budget.

On Dec. 3 council will begin final budget deliberations and decision.