As a first term Councilor I’m cognisant of the fact that for a short period of time, this council inherits the decisions and directions from previous terms. While I hope to be a Councilor that defends more decisions than criticizes over time, I won’t compromise on the message of “change” sent by the Guelph electorate in 2014. That being said, although I am proud of the approved capital works budget for 2015, I do not support the 2015 Guelph Operating Budget as a whole. The following explains why.
The positives on the capital side are numerous and include funding for completing Eastview Park and Trails ($5.7M); funding for upgrades to the Victoria Road Recreation Center (>$9M); funding for the York Road Improvement Environmental Assessment ($200K); funding for the Woodlawn Road multi-use path ($600K); and a $250K contribution to the affordable housing reserve.
All of these capital investments directly benefit our collective living experience in Guelph and are broadly accepted across all demographics. It is equally important to note however, that the total cost of these projects do not contribute significantly to the 2015 tax increase of 3.55%. In fact, when all is accounted for, the 2015 budget will likely include an overall decrease in capital spending year over year (2014-2015) and a net positive impact to the tax rate (i.e. a decrease in taxes). So why did the tax supported budget go up by 3.55%?
The answer is departmental growth and budget increases greater than 7% or >$7+ million dollars. Specifically, increases related to a) salaries and benefits, b) new positions, c) service costs, d) purchased goods, and e) purchased services. All of which incurred significant increases in 2015. In total, these costs result in a >4.15% increase to the tax rate in 2015. Further, this increase was only reduced to 3.55% on budget night because of cuts to capital spending (year over year) and council’s decision to reduce the annual debt repayment stemming from the Urbacon ruling (a $5.3M payment now made over ten years rather than six). As it stands the ongoing burden of Urbacon will include $500,000/year or a 0.25% annual increase to property taxes until 2025.
In an attempt to mitigate the tax burden on budget night, I (along with a few other Councilors) proposed many fiscally responsible motions to reduce the overall budget increase to 2.8%. This (minus the original 0.5% cost of Urbacon repayment) would have represented a 2.3% tax increase and aligned with voter expectations. We had the opportunity to deliver this to the people of Guelph with all of the capital projects intact, but were continually voted against on budget night. For these reasons, I concluded that the election message of “change” was defiantly being ignored and I would not support, or defend a 3.55% increase.