Potential Cambridge tax hike slowly dropping
CAMBRIDGE — City council is seeking a respite from the looming tax hike.
A pair of aging outdoor pools could be lost.
The George Hancock and Soper Park pools in Galt, beloved city dunk tanks during summer months, could be shut down and replaced by splash pads.
If the city’s budget task force goes for it, the move would save the city $112,800 in 2018 and potentially millions in costly upgrades to keep the weary opposite-side-of-the-river facilities. Hancock is 66 years old, while Soper is 50.
Or pulling the plug on two old pools could prove to be a political belly flop.
“I can’t fathom the outdoor closures,” Coun. Mike Devine said on Thursday, as the budget task force considered a list of cuts city staff put together at the task force’s request.
“I cannot see closing them down until we have other pools built for the people of this community.”
Other pools could be coming in the form of a city-sought aquatics multiplex, its exact whereabouts and project partners still to be determined. That could take years. Meanwhile, Hancock and Soper, along with the Ed Newland outdoor pool in Preston, get less than eight per cent usage during July/August leisure swims, the task force was told.
Two indoor city pools, Dolson and Johnson Centre, get 13 per cent use.
The task force made no decision on the fate of the two targeted outdoor pools on Thursday. But an old pool is hard to put down. A year ago, Soper was also on the budget chopping block, but got a last-minute reprieve from council.
This year, the search for budget savings is intensifying.
“I know we don’t want to reduce services,” Coun. Donna Reid said.
“But we’re at a point where we have to.”
The task force started Thursday with Cambridge residents facing a 5.21 per cent hike on the city portion of their property tax bill. By the time members were done, the hike was down to 4.94 per cent or about $68 dollars for the average home.
The task force approved a 25 per cent cut in grants to groups to save $33,300.
The flatlining of grants, mainly for heritage, the old fire hall museum and the social planning council, trimmed $24,200. Not filling a project engineer vacancy saved $31,800. Converting a fire prevention position into a firefighter saved $153,000.
A corporate training cut saved $50,000. Two other potential cuts will be coming back to the task force Dec. 14, as it works toward a tax hike closer to four per cent.
One potential cut seeks $300,000 in savings through more efficient administration from the city library entity Idea Exchange. City manager Gary Dyke and budget task force chair Mike Mann are to meet with the library board next week.
“Our board hasn’t seen this cut,” library board chair Gary Price, told the budget task force, of which he is a member. “We’ll take it up on Wednesday with the board. Through that discussion, we’ll either come back and let you know that they’re in agreement or they have some other ideas to lower the number. We know you want a lower number.”
City staff is also investigating the potential savings from slashing the cost-of-living allowance in half for some or all non-unionized staff.
The task force approved a $20,000 grant for the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, up from $4,300. The centre runs a satellite office at Langs in Cambridge and has a list of 125 survivors, 30-plus from Cambridge, waiting for support.
Full city council will consider the budget on Dec. 19.