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Guelph budget showdown in offing

Budgeting at city hall went so smoothly last year that you have to wonder if it was the calm before what could be a storm this December. Last year’s 12-1 final budget vote was an unusual degree of consensus at budget time. (Five councillors had voted against the 2011 city budget, following the civic elections of 2010.)
With this council term half done, political divisions seem to be showing more clearly once again. Witness the push led by Coun. Cam Guthrie in July to direct staff to “show the potential implications” of a 2013 operating budget with a zero increase, a 1% increase and a 2% increase. His motion lost 7-4. So far, council hasn’t even been shown the broad strokes of what a 2013 budget that meets council’s guideline of up to a 3% budget increase might resemble.
This is all part the backdrop for an Oct. 3 meeting where staff will present a 2013 capital budget and a new 10-year capital budget forecast. Staff want to boost capital spending in 2013 to the maximum allowed under the city’s capital budget guidelines. Cutting this spending back to the same percentage level used in 2012 – namely, 19% of the previous year’s tax revenue – would remove $1.7 million from the city’s 2013 operating budget. This would translate into a 1% reduction in money needing to be raised from property taxes next year, city finance staff say.
That 1% would help, if council could agree what to cut from proposed 2013 capital spending. But with senior staff having recently told council that they’re having a tough time finding palatable ways to get down to a 3% increase in the city’s base budget for 2013, a lot more help might be needed. Budget cuts, user fee increases and other measures that upset quite a few people could well end up in the tax-supported operating budget that’s due to go to council on Nov. 22. This council meeting will be followed by presentations by police and other local boards on Nov. 27 and then by – a key date – public delegation night on Nov. 29.
The most important date, of course, is Dec. 5 (and also Dec. 6, if necessary) when council will debate and decide the city’s 2013 budget. Will it be like a Wild West gunfight, as with the 2011 budget, or like the group hug it resembled last December when the 2012 budget was set?
It will probably be closer to the former than to the latter, we suspect, given how things seem to be shaping up.

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