City council took a wait-and-see approach to this year’s budget, which means that taxpayers must wait and see, too.
Council passed the first three readings of its five-year financial plan this week and homeowners can expect a one-per cent property tax increase. It’s not as high as the 1.8-per cent hike originally calculated, but it’s not as low as the zero rate change that politicians talked about on the campaign trail last fall.
We do think that the last election produced some fresh thinking. New councillors, unencumbered by cynicism and status quo thinking, tried to pursue some of the ideals that they had wanted to bring to the table when elected.
Unfortunately, this budget doesn’t include enough of those bright ideas. At the end of January, city staff proposed measures to cut $744,000 from the budget to get the tax increase down to one per cent. More than two and a half months later, that’s precisely the budget that passed three readings. It suggests that not a whole lot was accomplished in the budgeting process between then and now. Councillors had the opportunity to look over the documents line by line, and yet they came up with the same bottom line.
This council received a mandate to conduct a core review and that’s what will happen, but in the meantime, that core review has seemed to preclude productive budgeting. It was too easy, these past months, for councillors to put off decision making. A core review has potential to move and shake a municipality from its torpor and if not help cut property taxes, then at least ensure those taxes are put to better use. But it’s not the be-all and end-all, and so it shouldn’t have been the last word in this year’s budget talks.
Though the financial plan passed almost unanimously, city councillors aren’t exactly giving it rave reviews. Some feel the cuts went too far, another, not far enough. If none are happy, it’s an indication, at least, that they struck a reasonable balance.