There were some very surprising developments from last night's (as it turned out) first round of Council deliberations for the 2011 budget.
Surprise #1: Transit wins. Somewhere, somehow, the majority of council seemed to click on to the fact that you can't promote the use of mass transit while cutting the legs out from beneath it. For 2011, fares are frozen, 20 minute service stays in summer and we get five stat holidays of service, which, as my grandmother used to say, is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
In what were the most part close votes, the fee freeze barely passed 7-6 (although Karl Wettstein later said that he pressed "the wrong button" voting in favour. At least the Mercury cartoonist got something out of it.) Meanwhile, the vote was a much better 8-5 in favour of keeping 20-minute service. On the contentious issue of stat holiday service, Maggie Laidlaw's original motion for service on all stat holidays was voted down 9-4, not giving up though, Laidlaw asked for a vote on having stat holiday service limited to Canada Day, John Galt Day, Labour Day, Christmas and Boxing Day, which passed much more easily by 10-3. I tip my hat to all councillors who showed commitment and content of character to not punish the City's dedicated (and sometimes limited) transit users by punishing them a second year in a row with a twin cut in service and fee hike.
In other news, Gloria Kovach's motion to eliminate all 87.5 of the new Full-Time Equivalency positions and re-add them to a budget on a case-by-case basis was voted down, although some new positions were later cut. An additional bylaw supervisor and two positions — a network specialist and marketing co-ordinator — from the Guelph Public Library budget. That wasn't Kovach's only move against the Library. She tried to mothball the bookmobile, but it was voted down - narrowly. So Surprise #2 was: Has the Library been enjoying the gravy train too long now? Weird.
Councillors also rejected a return of parking meters downtown, while approving a $900 pay raise for themselves. Fulfilling a campaign promise, Cam Guthrie brought the motion, admitting it was a symbolic gesture with not a lot of savings, but he lost the vote nonetheless 8-5. “I’m not prepared to forego a small increase for the sake of it looking good,” Laidlaw said, noting with the number of hours councillors put in they make approximately minimum wage.
Part Two begins tonight at 7 pm. In the meantime, The 59 Carden Street Blog has a pretty good break down of the cuts and costs so far:
- There will be no transit fare increases this year - $200,000 cost
- The Carden Street transit terminal will open Nov. 1 instead of Sept. 1 - $90,000 saving
- No hiring of a bylaw compliance supervisor - $103,000 saving
- Sign and sidewalk inspector position decreased by $10,600
- 20-minute transit service throughout summer months - $260,000 cost
- No new mobility supervisor - $74,000 saving
- Remove corporate analyst from finance budget - $18,000 saving this year
- Adjust snow removal standard from 8 cm to 10 cm - $137,400 saving
- Continue to lease vehicles rather than own - $213,000 saving
- Use social services revenues to offset cost of well-being strategy and social services assessment - $100 saving on tax-supported budget (though not an overall saving because the money will still be spent)
- Run buses on 5 stat holidays (John Galt Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Christmas and Boxing Day) - $68,000 cost
- Decrease staff training budget - $220,000 saving
- Keep Bookmobile on the road (passed 7-6) - $200,000 cost
- Cut two proposed full-time library staff - $91,000 this year
- With all the ins and outs, the most recent estimate from staff (at 10:53 p.m.) is that the tax increase if the budget was passed at that time would be 5.04 per cent.