Town budget barely passes
Council divided in approving Milton budget that will see municipal taxes rise by 4.58%
The 11 members of council spent little time discussing the increase during Monday’s marathon meeting, which saw only six of 11 councillors vote in favour of the controversial budget. Much of the divide and discussion came down to a 1 per cent tax levy that will establish a hospital expansion reserve fund.
Though Milton continues to enjoy one of the lowest property tax rates in the GTA, the 4.58 per cent increase was still too much for some councillors, including Milton’s mayor, to swallow.
“You’re always going to get differences, but a council split down the middle doesn’t send a very good message to the community and it doesn’t show a lot of confidence,” said Mayor Gord Krantz. “It sends a message that a lot of people are not comfortable with what’s going on. I hope it’s not a prelude of things to come.”
Voting against the budget were Krantz and councillors Tony Lambert, Greg Nelson, Rick Malboeuf and Mike Cluett. Voting for the budget were councillors Colin Best, Sharon Barkley, Cindy Lunau, Arnold Huffman, Rick Di Lorenzo and Zeeshan Hamid.
The increase isn’t nearly as steep as staff previously predicted was necessary, when an initial budget report suggested a levy of close to 7 per cent was needed. The report presented to the budget committee last week showed a 5.72 per cent levy, with options to bring that amount down to 2.08 per cent.
While a lot of Town Hall’s priorities were set during the previous council term, newly elected and returning councillors did make some slight changes to bring the increase closer to the rate of inflation. A $100,000 bike lane implementation program was reduced to $50,000 to be spread out over four years. The opening of the Milton Centre for the Arts and the new main library was delayed from April to June and a snowplow advertising campaign was eliminated from the budget.
The changes saved about $143,000.
The Town’s $164.2 million budget includes 80 infrastructure projects that total $85.6 million. The capital budget was largely influenced by eight multi-year projects pre-approved in 2010, which include the Main Street grade separation and several new facilities that should be operational by the year’s end.
On a $350,000 home, the 4.58 per cent increase translates to a $40.70 increase in the urban area and $34.05 for rural homes.
Combined with the regional, local and educational components of residential taxes, which account for 44 per cent, 29 per cent and 27 per cent respectively, Miltonians are looking at an overall tax increase of 2.2 per cent in the urban area ($19.41/$100,000 of assessed value) and 2.09 per cent in the rural area ($17.48/$100,000 of assessed value).
Christina Commisso, Milton Canadian Champion
Town staff presented the budget committee a 2011 budget with a 4.86 per cent hike and included options to bring that percentage down to 1.66 per cent. The committee approved a 2011 budget with a 4.58 per cent tax increase.
A passionate debate extended into the early morning and left council divided, after a motion to introduce a last-minute hospital expansion tax narrowly passed with a 6-5 vote.
The motion to establish the 1 per cent levy came late in the budget deliberations, after the budget committee, which is made up of the mayor and all councillors, had settled on a 3.58 per cent increase on the local share of residential taxes (29 per cent of the property tax bill).
Ward 3 Councillor Cindy Lunau introduced the motion, which was followed by an impassioned speech that drew applause from the gallery in Council Chambers Monday night.
“You can try every way to say this community has grown to point where this is such a critical need that we as a council will go out on a limb, before we know what the price is, to get our piggy banks ready,” she said of the levy, which translates to a yearly increase of $8.89 for the average Milton home.
“It’s a small amount, but it will never be used for anything else but local share expansion. We need to show the Province we really are ready. There are a lot of communities out there saying they need a hospital — we have to say that we’re a community you can count on.”
Along with Lunau, voting in favour of the levy were councillors Colin Best, Sharon Barkley, Arnold Huffman, Rick Di Lorenzo and Zeeshan Hamid. Voting against the increase were Mayor Gord Krantz and councillors Tony Lambert, Greg Nelson, Mike Cluett and Rick Malboeuf — the harshest critic of the levy.
“You’re saying we’ll be sending a message to the Province,” he told Lunau. “My concern is we’ll be sending the wrong message. The message being, look what Milton did. They’re prepared to pick the pockets of taxpayers to fund something we (the Province) should be paying for.”
However, Halton Healthcare Services (HHS) President John Oliver said setting money aside for the expansion is “critical” in influencing the Province to move forward with the much-needed expansion.
“It’s almost a given now; from Sault Ste. Marie to Niagara you’re seeing communities having to step in with the local share burden.”
Last week HHS asked the Town of Halton Hills for $4.5 million for the Georgetown Hospital expansion.
Di Lorenzo said planning for the future renovation well in advance is the fiscally responsible thing to do. “If you think a four per cent increase now is difficult, if we don’t start saving money we’re going to be seeing eight, nine, and 10 per cent increases.”
Huffman added: “It’s our job to make tough decisions, and maybe those decisions are not popular. If I’m wrong, maybe I won’t be elected in four years. But I can do without $10 (a year) to support the beginnings of a new hospital and show the Province we’re serious about this.”
While none of the councillors opposed to the levy were opposed to the expansion, some felt a public meeting was in order before finalizing the increase.
“Where I have some difficulty is the fact mere months after being elected — and after many of us around this table talked about accountability with regards to the voters — I have a very difficult time accepting a 1 per cent tax levy with very little, if not any, public consultation,” said Cluett.
The same sentiments were echoed by Nelson, who reminded council when they voted to support HHS with a contribution for the local share of the expansion this past summer, a new tax was a “last resort.”
“We haven’t even seen the funding options for the hospital yet from finance (department) as to what our options are,” said the downtown councillor. “Is there an urgency —absolutely. But we have time at this point to consult with the public. We 10 people can’t come up with all the answers. We need to research more on the issue.”
The budget committee passed the 4.58 per cent tax increase in a 6-5 vote, with the same councillors who voted against the hospital levy voting against the budget.
Krantz said he wished council would have been able to come to a consensus on the budget, but throughout the evening the mayor maintained he wouldn’t support a local levy above the rate of inflation.
The 1 per cent hospital tax rate adds $2.54 for every $100,000 of residential assessment.
Combined with the regional, local and educational components of residential taxes, which account for 44 per cent, 29 per cent and 27 per cent respectively, Miltonians are looking at an overall tax increase of 2.2 per cent in the urban area and 2.09 per cent in the rural area.
The 2011 budget will be voted on during Monday’s council meeting
In what was described by Regional Councillor Colin Best as the highest attended levee, hundreds of people flowed into Milton’s Town Hall to be entertained by some amazing performances and served coffee, tea, and cupcakes by Milton’s Town Councillors.
You remember back in October, councillors were elected to serve the people of Milton…many didn’t think it was so literal.
Nine out of the eleven councillors (two couldn’t make it unfortunately being out of town on family holidays) did their very best in hosting this years Mayor’s New Years Levee at Town Hall. This event has always been put on by the Milton Historical Society and they did enjoy being on the other side of the event this year. Many people were amazed at how us councillors were able to serve up these great snacks.
I can tell you from personal experience, although tiring, everyone of us enjoyed doing it. I was even joking with the other councillors that we could almost form a company and set up a side business in catering (Yes we ARE kidding)
It was great to see so many faces, young and old, at the levee (quite a few from Ward 6 as well) and answering questions and exchanging some holiday cheer. In the Milton Room (the West Wing of Town Hall) there was a presentation on upcoming projects that the town is involved with. I know for certain Councillors Colin Best and Cindy Lunau were quite busy getting people up to speed on how Milton will change in the coming years.
There was no shortage of entertainment in the lobby as well. The Milton Seniors “Song Spinners” were a huge hit with the crowd with holiday songs and many in attendance sang along. “A Capella Showcase” started off the afternoon with renditions of some traditional carols and it was a great way to celebrate a fantastic day.
This event couldn’t have been pulled off without the efforts of Councillor Cindy Lunau. Many thanks goes to her for coming up with the idea and getting us all organized and ready to serve. Other thanks goes to our gracious sponsors (I hope I get them all) Troy’s Diner, Tim Horton’s, Flour Girls - great cupcakes – & La Rose Bakery for their treats.
I can honestly say that council members are really looking forward to doing this again. It definitely adds a personal touch and really exemplifies what a levee is all about…meeting members of council and socializing with fellow residents.
Happy New Year everyone and thanks for coming out.