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Region budget sent back for last-ditch cuts

By Allan Benner, The Standard
Wednesday, December 6, 2017

After cutting nearly half a per cent from next year’s recommended 2.99 per cent tax hike, Niagara’s budget committee members referred the Region’s $1.1 billion 2018 budget back to staff to cut it even more.

Although Niagara Region staff recommended a 2.99 per cent hike on the regional portion of property tax bills for next year amounting to a $43 increase on an average home worth $248,200, it was too much for committee members who had instructed staff to hold any increases to no more than two per cent.

Niagara’s acting corporate services commissioner Jason Burgess said if it wasn’t for the Niagara Regional Police funding increase as well as “special levies” related to infrastructure investment, this year’s increase would be about 1.1 per cent.

Rather than accept the recommended budget, committee members amended it to reduce the tax impact to 2.54 per cent by using assessment growth, and referred the budget back to staff asking that it be further reduced to meet the guidelines of a two per cent increase.

“I think our budget has gotten too large over time,” said Welland Coun. Paul Grenier.

While commending staff on the budget calling it a “wonderful work,” Grenier said developing the budget “has become too much of an administrative process and not enough of a legislative one.”

“Our services have gotten too large, too wide and deep to be able to deal with the files in any substantive way,” he said.

St. Catharines Coun. Bruce Timms said the recommended budget includes too much funding for Niagara Regional Police to cover its 4.5 per cent budget increase, as well as a $600,000 grant for Niagara College, which is provincially funded.

He said the budget, however, does not providing enough funding for tourism or to make up provincial shortfalls for public health leading to 2.6 full time equivalent job cuts in that department.

“I think we have our priorities wrong,” Timms said.

St. Catharines Coun. Tim Rigby suggested asking regional staff “to come back with some very powerful recommendations that are based around what comes out of this discussion.”

“Frankly, if we have to we’re going to have to bite that extra money,” he said.

Committee members will likely have a final opportunity to discuss the budget at 4 p.m., Thursday, prior to the regional council meeting when it is to be considered for approval.
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