Bud­get ses­sions will of­fer a look at city’s path for­ward

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion -

Ap­prov­ing a bud­get is the big­gest event in the an­nual cy­cle of city coun­cil busi­ness.

The $282-mil­lion op­er­at­ing bud­get Peter­bor­ough city coun­cil is about to con­sider car­ries even more weight than usual. A newly elected coun­cil will be look­ing at a spend­ing plan drafted un­der the guid­ance of the coun­cil it re­placed.

And this coun­cil is headed by a new and much younger mayor, has sev­eral new, more lib­eral coun­cil­lors and was elected on a gen­eral com­mu­nity per­cep­tion that it would be more pro­gres­sive.

That sug­gests the bud­get could un­dergo more than the usual amount of change when it is poked and prod­ded dur­ing sev­eral nights of de­bate be­gin­ning Mon­day.

Home­own­ers are most in­ter­ested in the tax in­crease they will face.

The cur­rent pro­posal is for a 2.5-per-cent tax hike, which is roughly in line with in­fla­tion and con­tin­ues a trend of sev­eral years that the com­mu­nity seems to ac­cept.

Coun­cil is un­likely to stray far from that rea­son­able tar­get, which trans­lates to a tax in­crease for the av­er­age home­owner of just un­der $100.

If there is an ap­petite for higher taxes to pay for new ser­vices or projects, ev­ery ex­tra per­cent­age point would pro­duce $1.6 mil­lion.

In other words, bump­ing the tax hike to 4.5 per cent would gen­er­ate $3.2 mil­lion for new pro­grams and cost an av­er­age home­owner an ex­tra $80 on their tax bill.

An­other way to pay for new work is to chop or de­fer items now in the draft bud­get.

That doesn’t ap­ply to all $282 mil­lion, how­ever. Large chunks of rev­enue and spend­ing are dic­tated by pro­grams the provin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments pay for and the city man­ages, as well as fees col­lected for spe­cific pur­poses.

Take those away and coun­cil has $150 mil­lion to move around. If just five per cent of that money is con­sid­ered “in play” for cuts and shifts, coun­cil has $7.5 mil­lion to work with.

Change on that scale, even within an ex­ist­ing bud­get that held taxes in line, would be mon­u­men­tal com­pared with past his­tory.

How­ever, it would just about sat­isfy the 20 peo­ple who showed up at a pub­lic meet­ing Wed­nes­day night to urge coun­cil to put money into ar­eas they be­lieve are high pri­or­i­ties.

Many of those projects were re­lated to hous­ing and home­less­ness. An­other was an am­bi­tious “ask” for a $32 sur­tax on ev­ery house­hold that would cre­ate a $1.3 mil­lion “green” fund to pay for car­bon re­duc­tion ini­tia­tives.

Then there are the $770,000 worth of projects that var­i­ous city de­part­ments iden­ti­fied as high pri­or­i­ties but aren’t in the bud­get, rang­ing from longer li­brary hours and more am­bu­lance ser­vice to an ex­tra $104,000 for the lo­cal pub­lic health unit.

Pay­ing for one new ser­vice with­out a tax in­crease doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean cut­ting some­where else. Coun­cil also has the op­tion of shift­ing its pri­or­i­ties in cap­i­tal and op­er­at­ing spend­ing.

This year, $10 mil­lion in rev­enue from the city-owned elec­tri­cal util­ity and the new Shore­lines Casino will all be ded­i­cated to pay­ing for cur­rent and fu­ture cap­i­tal projects. That’s a pru­dent ap­proach, but coun­cil could de­cide to shift some of the $10 mil­lion to­ward cur­rent needs.

Bud­get­ing is a coun­cil’s most ef­fec­tive tool for set­ting the city’s fu­ture path. What comes out of next week’s ses­sions will in­di­cate to what de­gree, and how quickly, this coun­cil wants to change that path.

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