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CBC News: Hamiltonians have their say at today’s public budget meeting, as city proposes 7.9% tax increase - ACORN Canada

CBC News: Hamiltonians have their say at today’s public budget meeting, as city proposes 7.9% tax increase

Posted January 17, 2024

Around 70 people have signed up to speak or submitted statements for Tuesday afternoon meeting

When it comes to how the city should carve up its budget for 2024, Hamilton resident Adeola Egbeyemi says she is asking councillors to take the climate into account during their deliberations – and not just on specific line items that have to do with the environment. She’d like it to be part of every element of the city’s financial plan.

“It’s a long-term, overarching vision that we hope all the councillors will adopt,” Egbeyemi, project coordinator at Environment Hamilton, told CBC Hamilton in the lead up to an afternoon of public delegations to council.

“It’s tough talking about climate, even with my own family and friends, because… it’s hard to live, it’s hard to get by day-to-day,” she said.

Tuesday is Hamilton residents’ final opportunity to speak to council about the 2024 budget.

“People still care about climate change but they also right now are focused on living and I think that puts the onus more on folks closest to political power to really maintain the will to work.”

Egbeyemi is one of dozens of people looking to advise council on how they should spend taxpayer money over the next year. Around 70 people had either signed up to speak at Tuesday’s budget meeting or have provided written submissions. The meeting begins at 3 p.m. and will be streamed online.

Many of the written submissions focus on the affordability crisis being felt throughout the country, with some residents asking council to do more to build affordable housing, improve tenant protections, rein in city spending to keep taxes low, or to cancel the $13-million requested discretionary increase to the Hamilton Police Service budget.

“If we cannot afford to house our fellow humans, we most certainly can’t afford to increase funding to the police,” wrote Ward 2 resident Michelle Gallagher.

“I had a very privileged upper middle class upbringing. I am white. I went to university. And still, because of this cost of living crisis, I sleep on the floor next to my child’s bed because I can only afford a one-bedroom apartment. I am only a few strokes of bad luck away from being unhoused myself.”

Some of those expected to make in-person presentations included representatives from the McMaster Students Union, the West End Home Builders’ Association, tenant group ACORN, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce  and various other groups and individuals.

Proposed budget would increase property tax by 7.9%

The proposed budget, which the city released on Jan. 12 and describes as “investing in key areas such as housing and homelessness, and [maintaining] the programs and services that Hamiltonians rely on,” would lead to an average annual residential property tax increase of 7.9 per cent, or just under $400. Last year, Hamilton city council approved a 5.8 per cent tax increase.

Taxes had initially been forecast to rise by 14.2 per cent after this year’s budget, which was reduced partially through a plan to pull more than $210 million out of reserves and borrow $21.1 million.

“Theoretically, reserves are there for rainy day funds,” Mayor Andrea Horwath told CBC Hamilton in November. “And I would say right now it’s pouring. And it’s a very, very difficult time right now.”

The $216,374,421 set to be spent from city reserves over the next four years will leave an uncommitted balance of $40,119,044, meaning the city would be pulling out 80 per cent of its reserve funds.

About a third of this year’s increase is due to new provincial legislation that shifts costs of new development from builders to municipal taxpayers, the city says. The legislation reduces fees developers pay to build affordable housing, non-profit housing and inclusionary zoning units — meaning affordable housing in new developments — as well as some rental units.

Those fees go to municipalities and are then used to pay for services to support new homes, such as road and sewer infrastructure and community centres.

The budget contains $19.2 million in new funding for housing and homelessness, including the city’s Housing Sustainability and Investment Roadmap. That plan directs staff to acquire and preserve affordable housing, and to work with non-profits to help unlock federal and provincial housing money, led by a new division called the Housing Secretariat.

Following Tuesday’s delegations, the process will continue on the following days:

  • Jan. 19: Presentations from an external economist and staff on the City of Hamilton’s economic outlook and budget overview.
  • Jan. 22 to Jan. 26: Presentations from city departments, boards and agencies
  • Jan. 30: General Issues Committee budget deliberations
  • Feb. 15: Special council meeting to consider final budget approval

Police budget typically makes up about 18% of total levy

As the city’s largest budget item, the police service, like last year, is facing questions about its request for an increase in 2024.

Vic Wojciechowska, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 3906 – which represents McMaster university academic workers – will be among those asking council to reconsider raising the police budget.

Hamilton’s Police Services Board is asking for a total budget of $213 million in 2024, $20 million more than the 2023 budget. About $13 million of that increase is imposed costs required by the police services act, the police board said. Chief Frank Bergen has previously said paying for policing typically makes up about 18 per cent of the city’s tax levy.

During the police board’s meeting mid December, Bergen described it as a “maintenance budget.” A report submitted to the board by the police service states that much of the increase comes from staffing costs, which account for $9.24 million. Other budget pressures cited were rising Workplace Safety and Insurance Board costs, additional mandated training and technology requirements.

“A higher police budget has not solved the opioid crisis, poverty, and homelessness,” Wojciechowska told CBC Hamilton on Monday. “It criminalizes people facing concurrent crises.

“We’re putting money into a police budget while under-funding social solutions, not addressing the roots of so-called crime and paying police more to do the wrong kind of work.”


Article by Saira Peesker for CBC News