By Doug Hallett
Several budget items were added, subtracted and rejigged, but city council ended budget night about where it had started – with an operating budget for 2014 that’s 2.38 per cent higher than the city’s 2013 budget.
The increase – slightly higher than the 2.37% hike proposed going into Thursday’s meeting – means an increase of $78 in next year’s property tax bill for a household with an average home valued at $311,136. Combined with changes to Guelph’s water and wastewater rates already approved for 2014, the impact on an average household next year will be about $105, city hall says.Council approved the $193.3-million operating budget on a 9-4 vote, with councillors Jim Furfaro, Cam Guthrie, Gloria Kovach and Andy Van Hellemond opposed.
City staff originally proposed a 3.36% increase in early November, but they brought it down to 2.37% before budget night.
This provided more leeway for council to add a few items to the budget Thursday.
An extra $140,000 needed to implement council’s favoured plan for reducing speed limits near elementary schools next year was approved.
This plan involves buying special equipment to allow lower speed limits for schools located on arterial roads to be in effect only at times when children are walking to and from school.
For schools on other, less busy types of roads, signs will be erected that lower the speed limit at all times of day. The $140,000 motion passed unanimously.
Green thumbs up
A motion to add $50,000 into the budget to let the city hire four summer students to work on horticultural plantings next summer also passed. Furfaro, Guthrie and Kovach were opposed. It reverses a cut in the 2013 budget which, council was told, prompted many people to complain about the look of the city, especially at Victoria Road North and near the corner of Clair Road and Gordon Street.
The $50,000 will buy about 3,200 hours of student labour.
More grant money
Council also okayed boosting the money it grants to various organizations by $25,000, or about 10%, next year. It’s the first increase in the city’s grant budget since 2009. Grant requests are so numerous that many groups are being denied or don’t get their full requested allocation, council was told.
Parking rates up
The budget increases the city’s monthly parking rates by 5%, and recreation fees will go up by an average of 3%, the city says.
One Fewer hire
A motion by Guthrie, which passed 8-5, means the city will boost the city’s forestry staff only by one full-time and one part-time position in 2014. The budget had proposed hiring the full-time equivalent of 2 1/2 new employees.
Another successful motion, moved by Coun. Ian Findlay, cuts in half the amount to come out of the 2014 budget to pay for another new hire – a business process improvement specialist. Findlay argued that cutting this $92,100 budget item in half was justified, because such a specialist should be able to find ways to save the city some money next year.
Findlay also proposed a successful motion to hire four new mechanics next year for the city’s public works and transit operations. Four new hires were part of the original draft budget, but two had been trimmed out of the version that went to council Thursday. Derek McCaughan, the city’s executive director of operations and transit services, told council that staff would find savings to pay for the extra two hires without increasing the 2014 budget.
In all, council approved the full-time equivalent of 11.5 new positions, with one of them to be paid out of the city’s capital budget, Al Horsman, the city’s chief financial officer, summed up at the end of the meeting. That’s on top of the current 1,470 positions, he said.
Among the new positions are:
• A new development planner that city hall says will improve service to the business community by making it easier for the city to respond to development applications
• A three-year contract position for an enterprise development officer whose duties will include facilitating downtown redevelopment
• A committee coordinator to support council’s standing committees and do other work in the city clerk’s office
• A corporate application analyst to continue modernizing city services as part of the city’s corporate technology strategic plan
• A corporate health and safety program coordinator to reduce the city’s use of external legal resources and reduce costs associated with Worker Safety Insurance Board claims
• A three-year contract position for a program manager to be paid out of the city’s administrative overhead budget for capital projects, who is to establish a standardized system of program management and provide training to key staff.
2% pay hike
The new budget includes a 2% salary increase in 2014 for the city’s non-union staff.
This increase, previously approved by council behind closed doors, was made public with new budget documents presented to Thursday’s meeting. The 2% increase has a $520,000 impact on the 2014 budget, and this sum was part of the draft budget that went to council Thursday.
By Doug Hallett