Budget 2010: What's stays, what goes?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

  • Cuts to city jobs, transit service and police and ambulance budgets were part of difficult budget deliberations at Guelph City H

    Cuts to city jobs, transit service and police and ambulance budgets were part of difficult budget deliberations at Guelph City H

Written by Greg Beneteau

Downtown parking and snow removal are in. Transit service and library construction are out.

Guelph City Council eased some of the pain for homeowners in its 2010 Operating Budget, but only at the expense of other programs and services.

Residents faced a potential 9.2 per cent increase in property taxes in 2010 if current service and staffing levels were held at last year's levels. Over the course of the evening, that number was whittled down to 3.66 per cent, or $102 for the average homeowner.

At the outset of  Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Karen Farbridge conceded some of the options proposed by city departments to control costs had attracted “significant public interest.” These included a plan to replace the subsidized U-Pass, negotiated annually by the Central Student Association for all university students, with a single monthly fare for all students in the city.

That proposal, unveiled during a preliminary budget last month, didn’t end up being put forward. Instead, council opted to hike fares for adults and seniors by 5 per cent and increase the cash fare by 25 cents for 2010. Transit during statutory and civic holidays was also eliminated, and route frequency during summer months was decreased to 30 minutes from 20.

Council further resolved to revisit the U-Pass with the goal of setting a rate that “fairly reflects the cost of service rendered by Guelph Transit.”

Calling 2009 an “extraordinary year,” Ward 2 Councillor Ian Findlay said the city looked at unprecedented measures in order to avoid running a deficit, as was required by law.

“Every stone has been turned over. There are no sacred cows,” Findlay said.

He pointed to elimination 29 full-time positions in the city, as well as the implementation of five unpaid days off for all city staff – including councillors –  as proof that “city hall has not been immune to this recession.”

There's every indication that next year may be just as difficult, he added.

But for now, many city services were spared the axe, including city-run summer camps and grants for community or neighbourhood groups. Free downtown parking will continue unabated.

Other programs were taken off the chopping block, provided additional savings could be found to offset them. Council repealed cuts to sidewalk snow removal, with the proviso that the budget for the Emergency Services, Community Services and Operations (ECO) Committee be trimmed by $100,000 to accomodate the cost of service.

Council also agreed to continue funding the meal program at the Evergreen Seniors Centre, at a cost of $88,000, while staff worked with organizers to find ways of making the program revenue neutral.

Other projects weren't so lucky. Construction of the new East-end library was delayed; as a result, it will open in June rather than February. A proposal to install cameras in the Baker Street parking lot was also eliminated from the budget, saving $200,000.

Guelph Police Services identified $490,000 in additional saving, mostly related to delaying training and hiring in the coming year, while the city's Emergency Medical Services Department cut an extra $200,00 from its original budget. 

Shelagh Morris, corporate services director for GPS, told council the cuts would not affect the level of service. 

However, she warned that the department would be looking to get some of that funding back in 2011.

"Much of the savings are the result of maintaining the status quo... We've put on hold much of the training we would do this year" Morris said.    

Council also deliberated, but ultimately rejected, a proposal to transfer $500,000 from the city's rate stablization fund in order to further decrease property taxes.

The 2010 Operating Budget ultimately passed with a vote of 12-1. Councillor Christine Billings vote against the $17 million budget, telling The Guelph Mercury she thought council could have reduced the tax increase even further.

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