From Kim Arnott at the Oakville Beaver
Halton Region to vote on 1.3 per cent tax increase
While Halton’s police officers will receive a 3.1 per cent salary increase this year, the remainder of the region’s staff could see their pay increases limited to 2.25 per cent.The region’s budget committee set the upward limit on union settlements and non-union pay-for-performance increases on Monday, as it finalized a 2011 budget recommendation that features a 1.3 per cent tax increase.
“I think that the public is looking for us to show some leadership and keep in line with the private sector,” said Halton Hills councillor Jane Fogal.
Fogal introduced the motion after the defeat of a similar motion from Burlington councillor Jack Dennison that would have seen pay increases capped at 1.9 per cent.
Dennison argued that the lower cap was reasonable because the region is a desirable place to work, and past arbitration decisions have often awarded pay increases in that range.
While the vote on capping pay increases took place publicly, councillors went into closed session for about 45 minutes beforehand to discuss the salary issue.
Although Burlington councillor John Taylor questioned the need to discuss the issue privately, Halton region CAO Pat Moyle urged the move into closed session, noting that the region will soon begin negotiating collective agreements with seven employee groups.
The decision to adopt the cap on salary increases resulted in a 0.2 per cent tax decrease on all regional services except policing. While the average taxpayer will have to fork over about $20 more this year, that extra money will pay for additional policing costs.
Earlier in the budget process, councillors questioned $2.4 million in wage and benefit increases that helped drive up the Halton police budget by 6.9 per cent this year. Although the region has the responsibility for collecting taxes for policing, it has no say in the police budget, which is approved independently by the police services board.
The most recent collective bargaining agreement with police spread out a 9.2 per cent wage increase over three years.
However, regional chair Gary Carr says he is pleased with the budget and proud of what he describes as “without a doubt, the best record on taxes across the country.”
Pointing to four years of near tax freezes at the regional level, Carr credits the philosophy of ensuring growth pays for itself through development charges. He says that has allowed the region to almost triple the amount of money it spends on transportation projects without passing along costs to taxpayers.
However, the region has also been helped by the phase-out of GTA pooling to contribute to Toronto’s social services costs. For 2011, the savings for Halton amounted to $5.8 million.
And while this year’s tax hit might be light, residents will see water and wastewater rates – paid through local hydro companies – increase by 4.1 per cent in 2011. For the average household, the increase means homeowners will pay $798 a year, up from $767 last year.
The budget will be considered by the full regional council on Wednesday (today).