It what was a relatively easy process with such a great number of contentious issues, but the budget was passed at last night's council meeting. The end result wasn't as bad as people thought it was going to be. The 9.2 per cent shortfall was rounded down to about 3.66 per cent. Many of the more contentious potential cuts were avoided, but a number of councillors seem to have mixed feelings about what was kept and what was cut. From the Mercury blog here's the budget highlights at a glance:
- 29 full-time positions to be eliminated
- all staff to have five unpaid days during 2010
- sidewalk snow plowing to continue
- Guelph Transit passes to increase five per cent; 25 cents for cash customers
- U of G bus pass will continue
- statutory holiday bus service discontinued
- Evergreen dining room to remain open
- Free metered downtown parking to continue
- no cuts to community or neighbourhood grants
- east end library branch opening delayed until June
- city will continue funding summer day camps
So another giant leap backwards for transit, which has numerous problems already, some of which I touched on in my recent Community Editorial in the Mercury. While it's nice to know that the U of G buss pass would continue, it would be nice if the city made such Herculean allowances for us poor souls who live and work in Guelph and use transit to go about our day. What's not listed above is that we're now getting "summer service hours" too. Which means that those of us that like the convenience of 20 minute service, having places to go and people to see - even in summer. So now with a 25 cent increase we'll be paying what Torontians pay for the TTC, but not for the same level of service, for lesser service. Makes sense to me.
Anyway, here's what the City office thinks of the budget. From last night's press release:
City Council approves 2010 budget
GUELPH, ON, December 15, 2009 – Guelph City Council approved the 2010 tax-supported operating and capital budget at $196,630,308, a 3.66 per cent increase over 2009. When the property tax rate is finalized in early 2010, the impact on an average household in Guelph assessed at $258,000 will be roughly $102.
The City was facing a revenue shortfall of $8.1 million as City Council began its deliberations on the 2010 operating budget earlier this month. Given the revenue shortfall, an increase of 9.2 per cent over 2009 would have been required in order to maintain current level of City services.
“This has been one of the most challenging budget years in recent memory. I want to thank the many community members and organizations who offered Council their input on the budget. I also want to thank City staff, particularly the Finance department, for their diligent work throughout this process,” said Mayor Karen Farbridge. “The result is a budget that balances the need to protect services with the need to protect taxpayers.”
In November, City staff presented the budget to City Council and identified a number of potential reductions that would lower the impact on Guelph taxpayers. City Council heard over 30 public delegations during this year’s budget process, and approved a number of the recommended service changes.
Winter control on city sidewalks will continue in 2010, as will free two-hour on-street parking downtown. The City’s operations department was directed to find further operational efficiencies to offset the cost of maintaining these services. Transit rates and holiday transit services will be affected. A complete list of service changes is available here.
City Councillors and staff will take the equivalent of five unpaid days off next year, and the City is eliminating the equivalent of twenty-nine full time positions for a savings of over $2 million next year.
The revenue shortfall in 2009 was largely caused by the global economic downturn: interest rates were at historically low levels and impacted the City’s investment income; markets for recycled commodities were weakened, and sales of recycled paper, plastic and aluminum were well below average; and the City’s court services issued and collected fewer tickets and fines.
Transit revenues also grew more slowly than expected in the first half of the year despite increased ridership since introducing 20-minute service.
The City has prioritized its long-term capital investments, and deferred a number of capital projects based on legislated requirements, capacity upgrades, repairs or improvements, environmental impacts and other strategic objectives. This priority listing will help the City manage growth pressures expected over the next two decades, while continuing to provide the services residents and businesses need and expect.