Council will have to adopt a 2.9 per cent property tax increase for 2013 if they want to stave off service cuts, city staff are suggesting.
'Relative to other municipalities, we're comparable in terms of what we're seeing in terms of pressures relating to our budget.' —Mike Zegarac, City of Hamilton
Mike Zegarac, the city's director of financial planning/policy, delivered the news to council's general issues committee on Monday.
He told councillors the hike would add $101 to the average residential tax bill, bringing it to a total of $3,571, including education taxes.
He said the hike would be “in line” with those that have been approved in nearby cities.
“Relative to other municipalities, we're comparable in terms of what we're seeing in terms of pressures relating to our budget.”
Zegarac referred to the 2.9 per cent figure as a “starting point” for budget deliberations, which will culminate in April.
The number doesn't factor in several policies that are being considered by council, nor any funds that might be left over from the current fiscal year.
“We do have some programs and surpluses within the city budget that were not spent last year that could go toward bringing that number down,” said Ward 15 Councillor Judi Partridge, noting she wants to find efficiencies without paring back service levels.
“That's my goal as a councillor. I know the rest of city council is committed to that as well.”
The meeting came on the same morning the city announced it had fired 29 public works employees, and suspended two others, for “theft of time.”
According to Ward 12 Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, the city found evidence that crews were at times working “less than half and hour a day,” which he described as “blatantly unacceptable.”
Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie brought up the scandal during the committee meeting, asking city manager Chris Murray how the dismissals might affect the city's balance sheet.
Murray told the committee said he couldn't comment at the time, but said he and his staff would be looking further into the matter.