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Let the tax tinkering begin: council looks to lower proposed 3.93 per cent budget increase

Council hears there is likely some financial help from outside sources for street-level programs that will help marginalized citizens
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Jenn Schneider speaks to Guelph City Council during budget delegations on Wednesday night. Tony Saxon/GuelphToday

There appears to be a united front on Guelph City Council to lower the proposed tax rate increase for 2019.

The 2019 city budget will be finalized on March 5 and the net budget increase currently proposed by staff sits at 3.93 per cent.

That equates to a property tax increase of $157 on a home valued at $400,000.

“I’m hoping it’s obviously lower. I imagine everyone in the room wants it a little lower,” Mayor Cam Guthrie said at Wednesday night’s budget meeting.

“People are right on the cusp,” said Ward 6 councillor Dominique O’Rourke of the financial pressures many families face.

Fellow rookie councillor Rodrigo Goller echoed her sentiments, saying he was “uncomfortable” with the proposed increase as it sits.

Wednesday was delegation night, where the public has their say on the tax-supported operating portion of the budget.

It’s also the night councillors deliver “intentions,” which are things counsellors plan on bringing forward March 5  to get added to the budget and what they might be looking to cut.

One of the things likely to be targeted for the chopping block to some degree are 19 new hires being asked for by staff.

Staff also said it will be coming up with some “options” for council that would result in reducing the proposed increase.

The mayor said he wouldn’t be supporting a $346,000 corporate customer service expansion.

Several councillors have the city’s 1 per cent tax infrastructure levy in their sites, perhaps reducing that by funding half of it through a reserve fund in 2019.

Coun. Dan Gibson said he would be supporting half a per cent, not the full 1 per cent, falling on the taxpayer’s shoulders in 2019.

There seemed to be consensus on adding several items that came out of the Mayor’s Emergency Task Force, including a supportive recovery room for people to recover in a supervised setting from a mental health or substance crisis, a support worker in court, and two support workers  (one more than there was in a pilot project) for the Downtown Guelph Welcoming Streets initiative.

Those supports for marginalized citizens carry an annual price tag of roughly $1 million, but the mayor said Wednesday that there is funding help from other sources on the horizon that could see the city’s portion be well under 50 per cent of that amount.

More details will be available in the coming days, he said.

Several delegates Wednesday spoke of the need and importance of those supports.

Other things mentioned as possible adds on March 5 included two more reusable water bottle dispensing machines in city facilities,

A $158,000 trail expansion near Guelph Lake requested by and partially-funded by Rotary could be funded through a reserve fund as discussed Wednesday.

Delegates appeared before council on a wide range of subjects Wednesday:

  • Gary Pomfret asked for increased policing for his Grange Road condominium complex and additional lighting for Grange Road Park.

  • Chamber of Commerce CEO Kithio Mwanzia told council “it is concerning” that the proposed budget increase as it currently stands is “twice the rate of inflation.”

  • The Rotary Club of Guelph spoke in support of the $158,000 budget item to build a a trail connection to Guelph Lakes Conservation Area. Rotary has raised $100,000 for the same project.

  • Raechelle Devereaux, executive director of the Community Health Centre, spoke in support of funding for the Downtown Guelph Welcoming Streets outreach worker. Mayor Guthrie told council the County of Wellington has committed $38,000 to the $83,000 budget ask to pay for the outreach worker. Later council spoke of possibly adding two street workers.

  • Guelph Transit union local president Andrew Cleary spoke in support of transit improvements and the necessary funding support needed to make them.

  • Representatives of the Transit Action Alliance of Guelph spoke on the need for various improvements to the transit system - from transit priority measures to the need for additional bus shelters.

  • Dylan Euteneier and Olivia Simpson talked about an increase in their parking fees from $40 a month to $100 a month.

  • Scott McGovern of Ed Video and Kazoo fest along with Patti Broughton of the Guelph Arts Council appeared to “plead” for more funding for the city’s Community Wellbeing Grant to assist small arts organizations.

  • Dominica McPherson from the Guelph & Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination, Gail Hoekstra, executive director of the Drop-In Centre, Tina Brophey and Jenn Schneider spoke of the need for affordable and supportive housing and supports for marginalized citizens.

  • Kerry Manthenga on behalf of the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy and Guelph General Hospital emergency room physician Dr. Alex Folkl spoke in favour of funding the re-establishment of a supportive recovery room for people in substance or mental health crisis to rest and recover.

  • Steve Dyck spoke in favour of the city working quickly toward its commitment net zero carbon emissions and committing another $1 million in the 2019 budget towards it.

  • Pat Fung spoke, as he has several times in the past, on what he says is the city’s excessive operating costs compared to comparative cities.