This March, city council voted for a second consecutive tax freeze of zero per cent after many hours of debate. Many cuts were made to achieve the goal, with most decisions succeeding or failing by a narrow margin.
This week, the debate was renewed as council looked ahead to the 2013 budget. City treasurer Martin Hayward told council that “unprecedented” service cuts and likely layoffs would have to occur to make up the $25 million needed to achieve another tax freeze. The debate occurred at committee on Monday and full council on Tuesday, and despite Hayward’s words, both nights fell to a deadlocked vote to aim for a third straight zero per cent increase.
There were strong opinions on both sides.
“We can’t continue using reserve funds and have any kind of long-term stability,” said Ward 6 Coun. Nancy Branscombe. “(A continued tax freeze) will mean massive layoffs, no community funding, no new projects, no economic development funding, no transportation master plan.”
Ward 3 Coun. Joe Swan said there are ways to keep the freeze without gutting services.
“We will look for innovation’ we will look for revenue growth,” he said. “We don’t expect taxpayers to just keep writing cheques at four per cent higher than last year. They don’t want to pay more for the same service.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Ward 9 Coun. Dale Henderson, who said finding $25 million would be “easy,” stating an example that if repairing roads costs $250 million, simply cut road repairs by 10%.
There may be creative ways to find further savings, but I cannot believe anything near an additional $25 million can be found, or else council would not have had to dip into reserves last year.
We must understand what brings citizens and business to London, and what will keep them here. The mayor seems to believe low taxes are an irresistible draw, despite what they may cost us. Less landscaping, street cleaning, park maintenance, slashing our public transit system by more than 20,000 hours, less sidewalk clearing in winter, higher fees for public services — these are just a few of the measures on the table to achieve zero per cent. Hardly sounds like the makings of a city of opportunity.
By 2014, we will either see taxes raised or considerable loss of services in our city. Between the two, I believe we should continue to build our social services and infrastructure to encourage newcomers, and entice Londoners to stay.
What do you believe? Our future needs to be shaped by the vision of all Londoners. This is a fantastic time to express your opinion on this matter vital to our city, get to know your councillor and connect with them on this.
City council is here to represent us; don’t hesitate to speak to them about the issues that matter to you!
Brian Gibson is a graduate of Fanshawe College’s Integrated Land Planning Technology degree program. He is a self-employed CAD technician, freelance writer and civic activist in the city. You can follow him on Twitter @briangibson13, and read his blog at http://zone0fsilence.wordpress.com