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Gauntlet dropped

The Guelph Chamber of Commerce upped the stakes when it told council Thursday that the city needs to do better in controlling costs and improving productivity, in order to keep city budget increases minimal. The chamber believes property tax increases on individuals should be less than the Consumer Price Index, which has been running between 1.2% and 1.4% in recent years, said chamber president Lloyd Longfield. And, he said, “as the population continues to age, a zero tax increase goal, or tax increases below the CPI, needs to be a long-term goal.”
The stakes were already plenty high for budget night this Thursday, given that the 2014  budget that’s about to be finalized is the last one before next October’s civic elections.
This was the year senior city hall staff decided to give council a new formula last spring for setting budget targets – and to use this formula to start estimating budget increases for coming years. This formula predicted a 3.87% budget increase in 2014, followed by increases of 6.2% in 2015, 4.08% in 2016 and 3.44% in 2017 “if left unchecked,” said a city staff report.
When staff’s draft 2014 operating budget was presented to council on Nov. 5, Coun. Karl Wettstein said he was having trouble explaining to constituents why the city’s budget keeps going up by more than Canada’s standard index of inflation. “As long as our tax increases are above that (CPI), we’re going to be seen as overtaxing,” he said, perhaps setting the tone for this round of city budgeting.
Staff have reduced the proposed budget increase since then to 2.37%, with help from a large projected increase in tax revenue next year from property assessment on new buildings that have gone up in this prosperous city. However, there are pressures to add more spending back into the budget, including $140,000 for the city’s preferred way of reducing speed limits in elementary school zones.
It’s hard to argue with the need for this $140,000 item. But can council find ways to end up budget night below a 2.37% increase in the 2014 operating budget?
It’s all fodder for debate that should make for good viewing Thursday, if you don’t mind saying up late – perhaps really, really late.

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