Wednesday, December 14, 2010

Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday, December 14, 2010

New mayor arms himself for budget realities

Hundreds of pages of budget-related documents — from user fee increases to transit spending — go to the new council this week as the city begins finalizing the 2011 budget.

Proposals include higher fees for impounding vicious dogs — raised to $500 from the current $236 as a deterrent — and a substantial increase in what commercial photographers pay to use Hamilton parks for shoots. There’s also a plan to reallocate $3 million in provincial gas tax revenue, currently set aside to cover the cost of buying vehicles, as operating funds to help improve transit service.

But this year’s budget won’t be made or broken in the page-by-page consideration of such things as user fees or the proposed 1.5 per cent increase in transit funds.

Mayor Bob Bratina says the largest portion of the budget is wages, salaries and benefits, and “that’s going to be where the rubber meets the road.”

The pivot point in this week’s budget-related considerations is an in-camera meeting planned for Wednesday to determine the city’s collective bargaining strategy at a time when most of its agreements with employees are up for discussion.

“We’re going to have to count on the understanding of everybody who works for the city, on the difficulty that the city has in moving forward and maintaining taxes at zero, or as close to zero, as possible,” Bratina said.

Later this week, council gets an update on developments since the last financial status report in June. At that time, a property tax increase of 3.9 per cent was anticipated, excluding any increases in salary or wages for staff. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)