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New-found money means room to move

An unexpected rise in property taxes from new buildings being added to the tax rolls has created more wiggle room for council to pay for some of its priorities, including reduced speed limits near elementary schools.
The city has updated information from the province’s Municipal Property Assessment Corp., which indicates Guelph should see a $3.6-million increase in tax revenue next year from property assessment on new buildings in the city, Al Horsman, the city’s chief financial officer, told a council budget meeting.
That’s $2.2 million more than city staff estimated in drafting the city’s 2014 operating budget. As a result, Horsman said, staff are now proposing a 2014 budget increase of 2.37%, down from the 3.36% increase previously proposed.
The revised $193.3-million draft budget doesn’t include $140,000 that would be needed to implement council’s favoured plan for reducing speed limits near elementary schools next year.
School safety
This plan would see schools treated differently depending on whether or not they’re located on an arterial road. Schools that aren’t would see signage installed reducing speed limits at all times. However, for schools on arterial roads the city would buy equipment needed to put lower school-zone speed limits in effect only at times of day when children are walking to and from school.
For this favoured option to proceed, council will have to introduce a motion on Dec. 5, the city’s budget night. This motion would be to add $140,000 to the budget to finance the extra cost of this option, council was told during a marathon budget meeting last Wednesday.
Beautification
There were indications during the 5 ½-hour meeting that council is also considering adding more money to the budget to beautify the city next summer. Council was told $50,000 that was cut from the city’s 2013 budget for plantings would need to be added through a council motion on Dec. 5 if this cut isn’t to continue in 2014. The $50,000 cut caused problems for residents.
“We got bombed by people saying the city did not look very good,” said Coun. Karl Wettstein.
This year, city staff used a new budget formula that predicted a 3.87% budget increase in 2014, along with increases that would amount to 6.2% in 2015, 4.08% in 2016 and 3.44% in 2017 “if left unchecked,” according to a city hall report.
City CAO Ann Pappert told Wednesday’s meeting that despite a lot of talk about the desirability of using the Consumer Price Index as a target for Guelph’s annual budget increase, she still thinks the city needs its new formula.
The formula includes three factors ­­– a five-year average of CPI, a percentage linked to growth in the city and a percentage designated to go towards investment in the city.
Council heard Wednesday from top officials of all city departments about their budget proposals.
Transit
The draft budget calls for a $604,000, or 5.2%, drop in operating expenses in 2014 at Guelph Transit.
Guelph Transit’s acting general manager, Phil Meagher, said part of the 2014 budget reduction is linked to a new attendance management system. It is expected to produce a “significant” drop in absenteeism among transit employees next year.
Asked if Guelph Transit needs more drivers to cope with the overtime woes recently uncovered by internal auditor Loretta Alonzo, Meagher said he didn’t think any more full-time drivers are needed.
Bringing the city’s depleted roster of casual drivers, who fill in for absent regular drivers, up to full strength at 20 people should suffice, and this is being done, Meagher said. The roster went as low of four people during the summer, he noted.
Last year, council decided to spend $150,000 on measures to reduce absenteeism by city employees.
Savings
Mark Amorosi, the city’s executive director of corporate and human resources, said the city saw a 6.7% drop in absenteeism up to September this year. This is “clearly evidence the program is working” and saving the city money, he told the meeting.

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