The Peterborough Examiner
Low turnout for budget session
Only two people show up to speak to city council about priorities
Citizens were invited to speak to city councillors at a finance meeting Wednesday night about where they think tax dollars ought to be spent in 2024, but only two people spoke: Rob Hailman urged the city to “max out its credit cards” to build affordable apartments and Su Ditta asked for “sustainable” municipal funding for the arts.
Hailman spoke about how the wealthy (and housed) live a completely different reality, locally, than those who can barely make rent.
“Sometimes it feels like there are two cities in Peterborough,” he said. “It feels like our council lives in one, and I live in the other.”
Ditta, the executive director of Electric City Culture Council, spoke about the way art makes a city vibrant.
“Art matters,” she said. “It matters in our homes, in our hearts, in our spirits. It pumps up our economy and fortifies our community.”
These two areas — housing and the arts — will have to be considered by city councillors amid a host of other potential areas of spending in 2024.
Richard Freymond, the city’s treasurer and interim chief administrative officer, cautioned councillors at the meeting that the city will likely face surging inflation and diesel fuel costs in 2024.
Add to that the cost to pay 11 new Peterborough police officers and civilian hires for the full year in 2024 (hired with start dates staggered over the latter half of 2023), plus anticipated increases to operate Peterborough Public Health as the provincial government is expected to freeze funding to health units, and Freymond said the city could be facing $10.1 million in additional costs for 2024, compared to 2023.
“We will do everything we can to decrease spending, and adjust levels of service — where appropriate,” Freymond told councillors.
But it won’t be easy: a new city staff report has stated that to cover that $10.1 million, city council would either need to charge 4.80 per cent more in municipal taxes in 2024 or cut some services — and also pause a plan to hire 10 more people for Peterborough Police Service in 2024 to help fix what’s been described by police as severe understaffing.
Meanwhile, Freymond pointed out that in a recent survey filled out by 415 citizens, housing emerged as the top area where residents wanted to see their tax money spent next year.
Hailman spoke from experience about how rents have skyrocketed in Peterborough in recent years.
He said that in 2008, he was “fresh from school,” working at a call centre and paying $525 monthly for a “shabby” one-bedroom apartment on Hunter Street in downtown Peterborough — an apartment that costs $1,350 to rent today.
No wonder so many people have trouble paying their rents, he said.
Hailman suggested council “max out the credit cards” and aim to build 1,000 units of affordable housing. “It would make Peterborough a leader in housing stability in Ontario,” he said.
Meanwhile Ditta spoke about how the arts “attract business and tourists.”
She didn’t ask for an increase in arts spending on Wednesday night — instead Ditta asked council to continue funding at current levels, and to also continue offering multiyear funding programs so artists can count on the support for a few years at a time.
“Don’t cut the arts — magnify your returns,” she said.