Regional budget slashed

Graphic by Jenny Sureepromsilp
Graphic by Jenny Sureepromsilp

It’s going to be a belt-tightening budget year for regional council.

In order to minimize tax increases for regional citizens, staff and councillors are working to find at least $7.5 million in budget reductions for 2014.

Last week, staff recommendations for items to reduce the budget were presented to council. They were able to find $2.5 million in administrative efficiencies and proposed a variety of cuts to services and programs totalling $5.47 million.

The budget constraints, in part, are reflective of short-term increases in debt financing and loss of revenues in waste management.
Underlying this is a slower growth in the region.

“It’s indicative of the sluggish economy, it’s indicative of not very many commercial buildings being built and home building slowing down to a certain extent,” explained

Tom Galloway, a regional councillor and chair of the region’s budget committee.
A number of different areas are being considered for reduction, including eliminating four rural waste transfer stations, contributions to a long-term road rehabilitation fund and removing the use of summer students, among many others.

“There’s likely to be some things that the council won’t accept,” said Galloway.

While some of these economic adjustments are reductions in money for certain programming, other cuts are “just not putting money into programs that we had planned to put additional money into,” Galloway explained.

For instance, one of the staff recommendations was to eliminate Regional

Development Charge grants for new affordable housing for a savings of $175,000.

But, according to Galloway, this won’t impact the building of housing because there is already money set aside.

“So what we’re doing is saying that we’re not going to be doing any less of that, but we have a million dollars already in a reserve fund for that purpose. We’re going to take a holiday for a year,” he explained.

A public input session followed the presentation of the recommendations to council.

Mary Jane Patterson, executive director of REEP Green Solutions, came to give feedback. Regional funding, which covers 30 per cent of their operating costs, could be cut.

“This is a serious hit,” Patterson said.

“We’re the one, on-the-ground organization that has a mandate to reduce residential energy emissions and a track record in doing that.”

She added, “We just ask the region for that core and we go get the rest. And so that brings tremendous benefit for the community at a fraction of the cost that it would be if the region itself did this work.”

A number of other individuals and organizations were also present to discuss the budget.

Budget reductions are directed at meeting a 1.9 per cent property tax increase, a figure that was determined by staff in June.

However, it’s possible that this figure might be brought down further.

“I’m sure most councillors are going to want to get it lower than that,” said Galloway.
Harald Drewitz, a representative from the Kitchener Tax Watch Group, also spoke at the public input session, expression his concern with regional spending and tax increases.

He believes a tax increase should be capped at 1.5 per cent.

“You’ve got to get down to at least the point of the rate of inflation,”

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