Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday March 24, 2017
Budget crunch: Hamilton councillors opt to delay HSR plan, hike parking rates, rec fees to lower tax hike
Hamilton will hit the brakes on its 10-year transit improvement strategy, increase parking rates and recreation fees in a bid to stave off a hefty 2017 tax hike.
A full day of budget-busting Thursday also included closed-door discussions about selling or changing operations at community halls and carving nearly 84 full-time positions out of the workforce.
If all the last-minute budget-cutting proposals are adopted, the average tax hike will be whittled down to 2.3 per cent, or an extra $76 for the owner of a $315,000 residential property.
But the most controversial decision Thursday came when councillors voted to delay planned HSR service standard improvements until next year, including the addition of new buses, 29 drivers and 34,000 hours of extra service.
The move, which saved $2.1 million, was paired with a corresponding promise to put off a planned 10 cent fare hike until 2018.
City budget chief Mike Zegarac argued it made sense to delay the 2017 HSR strategy spending because Hamilton is still awaiting promised federal cash to pay for new buses needed to ramp up service.
“It doesn’t make sense to tax residents now if you can’t use those funds to pay for service changes until 2018,” he said.
But that argument didn’t wash with the union for HSR drivers or transit advocates who delivered a 900-name petition to councillors ahead of the meeting pleading for more investment in the HSR. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)