The council recently approved a tax increase of 3.48%. The vote was nine in support and six against. I was one of the councillors that did not support this increase.
I believe, along with five other councillors, that there was room to cut from this year’s budget. In fact, I don’t believe we, as a council, have made any decisions that would result in alleviating any annualized costs. This means the budget for 2008 will be an even tougher challenge.
Consistent with past years and several community meetings held since the election, I indicated that I would not support any tax increase above the cost of inflation. (about 2.4%)
In 1998, the provincial government established Social Services Pooling for the GTA to help offset the high cost of social services for the City of Toronto as a temporary financial stop-gap measure. Their rational was that Toronto was a regional centre for social services.
Hamilton is also a regional centre for social services. (Attracting people from other communities on social assistance) In fact, more people are moving into Hamilton on social assistance than moving out, but for some strange reason we were excluded from this program.
The City of Hamilton made the case to the province that social service costs should be uploaded to the province which existed before the current provincial government. Secondly, we should be included in the GTA pooling which would have resulted in an estimated $20 million of compensation to Hamilton to offset our social service costs for Hamilton tax payers. As a result of making our case, the province produced one-time social assistance funding year-to-year. This resulted in Hamilton receiving $19.5 million, $12 million, and $17 million, for the past three years, respectively.
This year, the provincial government announced in their budget the phase out of the Social Services GTA Pooling program. This results in many wealthier communities around the GTA (Burlington and Oakville for example) effectively receiving large windfalls of revenue. It is my understanding that Halton will be saving an estimated $42 million over the next four years.
Toronto’s social services will soon be uploaded to the provincial government enabling the phase out of the program. The insult lies with the GTA being the province’s priority and saving an estimated $200 million to the wealthiest communities, while Hamilton with the highest poverty rate and the lowest average disposable income is inexplicably being treated as a lower priority.
The provincial government short changed Hamilton tax payers by $5 million. They have attempted to quell the discussion by highlighting other expenditures in the City Of Hamilton, such as education, Stelco, health care, infrastructure, etc. The reality is that they have done some good for the community. However, when it comes to social services, the provincial government has not treated Hamilton fairly. As a result of the short fall, the tax pressure has increased by 1%. With the tax rate increasing by 3.48%, and if you take into account the $5 million short fall (1% tax increase), the actual tax increase would have been 2.6%. My colleagues that approved the budget feel that 3.48% was a reasonable increase to reach considering the $5 million short fall. I do not agree. We should not abdicate our responsibility just because of this short fall.
I will attempt to push for greater efficiencies, cost reductions, and opportunities to lower your tax burden. If you have any questions, please contact me.