“Up to three-percent”

Council’s discussion last night about the coming fiscal year’s net tax levy increase over last year’s level seemed to include a rough consensus that an increase approaching zero percent was desirable in a “hey-why-not-I’ll-go-on-record-saying-that-would-be-good” kind of way but most councillors balked at supporting Ward 4 Councillor Guthrie’s amendment for staff to show the implications for zero, 1% and 2% increases for the organization. (Guthrie’s amendment was seconded by Councillor Furfaro, Ward 1.)

Councillors Guthrie, Furfaro and Councillor Bell (Ward 2) spoke to their support of the amendment. Councillor Furfaro reminded Council that the data from a recent survey indicated those who responded were clear about wanting any tax increases kept as low as possible, “not up to three-percent, they did not say that”. Councillor Bell spoke to the amendment because it requires a prioritization of spending.

Councillors Guthrie, Furfaro, Bell and Van Hellmond (Ward 2) voted in support.

Discussion about whether it was appropriate to ask staff to make “political decisions” reflecting the tax options set out in the amendment seemed to distract Councillors from considering, in essence, a response to the “up to three-percent” target vetted by staff. (Staff have recently indicated that a net tax levy increase of about 8.5% would be necessary to maintain 2012 service levels into 2013, but that they wanted to work towards presenting a budget that would include up to a three-percent increase.)

Thank you to Councillor Guthrie for inferring from the logic, “it is already a political decision to go from 8.5% to 3%.”

I think Council could have teased out how staff arrived at the “up to three-percent” target instead of “up to four-percent” or some other number.

Councillor Guthrie made the valid point that Councillors should be able to lean on staff to bring forward suggestions on how to bring the coming year’s tax increase to a near zero level, given that they work with the budget as part of their jobs, unlike part-time Councillors.

So…

Working towards a zero percent increase won’t be easy — but my advice to staff — it’s very much in your hands in terms of how it could happen and what it would look like, for you, “the organization” and the people you serve.

Councillors, we know you’ve now confirmed the target of “up to three-percent” — but there is a credibility issue here that is not being helped with this approach, which may be the bigger problem for you to turn around. Don’t think for a moment you are, as a deliberative body, serious about anything less than three-percent. And in all fairness, don’t think for a moment that the public think you are, either. What buy-in for “up to three-percent” that do honestly expect from the electorate?! Haven’t we seen something like that before?! Realistic expectations!

But by all means, prove me wrong!

***

Also see here and here regarding last night’s meeting.

About Craig Chamberlain

Ward 3 Guelph resident, dad and step-dad.
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