Tax hike looms over marathon budget talks

image.jpg

Day-long budget deliberations saw several big ticket items funded, but so far, little tax relief for homeowners.

London city council is staring down an average tax increase in excess of four per cent per year in the 2020-23 Budget. Day five of deliberations saw Council wrestle with several Business Cases for new spending.

“We’ve taken significant actions on transit, we’ve taken significant actions on housing. Now is also the time to take significant action on climate,” pressed Councillor Stephen Turner.

Council agreed, endorsing an additional $1 million for implementation of its Climate Change Action Plan, though details are still being developed.

“This is just one step forward,” explained Councillor Arielle Kayabaga, “but this is not the full step we need to take.”

Former co-Chair of the Poverty Panel, Councillor Maureen Cassidy, made an emotional pitch to permanently fund several London Transit rider subsides that started as pilot projects.

Council agreed to provide $3.6 million to continue low income bus passes, as well as subsidized fares for kids, teens, and seniors who buy tickets.

And Council members also took the first step towards constructing a new city hall building. Convinced that there will be long-term savings related to energy costs, and no longer leasing office space downtown, they approved $13 million to hire a consultant and architect over the next four years. There’s a tentative $125.5 million placeholder for construction in 2024.

Councillor Turner spoke to the long-term savings: “Make sure we are doing things in the right and most efficient way.”

But Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen remains skeptical.

“We have huge amounts of vacant space downtown and the current system we have at least fills some of that,” he said.

Several contentious items have been pushed to the last day of deliberations, including funds to help close the infrastructure gap, rising Land Ambulance costs, and a $3 million request from Fanshawe College to help fund construction of its Innovation Village space.

Council voted 8-7 against hiring a new staffer to help with its Smart City Initiative.

Currently the average annual tax increase stands at 4.2 per cent over the four year budget, including a 4.9 per cent hike this year if all remaining spending is approved.

Deliberations are scheduled to conclude on Feb. 14.