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Region finalizes $1.1-billion budget for 2018

By Bill Sawchuk, The Standard
Friday, December 8, 2017

With a final nip here, and a tuck there, politicians were able to bring the 2018 Niagara Region budget in line with where they originally wanted it.

After a special budget meeting Tuesday, the tax impact was at 2.54 per cent, a figure councillors still felt was too high.

They voted to send staff back to try and find enough savings in the nearly $1.1-billion budget down to meet their guideline to cap increase at two per cent.

It was not immediately clear how much of an impact it would have on individual taxpayers. The Standard was not provided that information.

Said Port Colborne Coun David Barrick, budget chairman: “We balanced the needs throughout Niagara, respecting infrastructure, respecting clean, safe water, and our assets as well as the programs and services our residents rely on every day, all the while keeping in mind, and maintaining taxpayer affordability.”

Before the full council meeting Thursday, the budget committee had found enough savings by deferring some place-holder funding for projects that aren’t yet on the books, eliminating two new staff hires and using reserves to fund grants arising from the cultural committee.

Niagara’s acting corporate services commissioner Jason Burgess told the budget committee Tuesday that if it wasn’t for a hefty 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.

“Staff understood that two per cent was two per cent,” said St. Catharines Coun. Bruce Timms.

“I’m disappointed about how much we had to cut to accommodate the 4.5 per cent increase in the police budget, which is 90 per cent attributable to salaries and the arbitrator’s decision.”

Cliff Priest, president of the Niagara Region Police Association, earlier this week said his officers are fed up with being blamed for budget increases. The police board knew an increase was coming, and should have planned accordingly.

Priest said the awarded increase was an effort to keep local wages in line with other jurisdictions and came after the police budget was held to a zero per cent increase in 2016 — despite knowing that the police association contract was due for renewal that year.
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