Hamilton homeowners facing average $68 tax increase

The burden on Hamilton taxpayers has been lifted a little more with a new draft budget for the city.

The burden on Hamilton taxpayers has been lifted a little more with a new draft budget for the city.

Staff have found savings that will reduce the budget increase to 1.9 per cent over last year, a $68 increase on the average household. The previous version of the budget called for a 2.5-per cent increase, or $75 more than last year for the owner of a $266,200 home.

The change reflects, among other savings, a smaller than expected Ontario Works caseload and winter control budget.

The year-end totals for 2012 are available now, and they weren't at the start of the budget process, city manager Chris Murray said.

"Because of that, we've been able to look at the books more closely and come to you with these further savings."

Councillors deliberated the budget at a general issues committee meeting Thursday. A big item was the budget for Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Inc. (HECFI), which projects no savings for 2013.

This worried some councillors. HECFI's properties will be managed by new parties this year — Copps Coliseum and Hamilton Place by Global Spectrum/Live Nation, the Hamilton Convention Centre by Carmen's Inc. Both promised savings in their bids.

Both groups have said 2013 will be a transitional year. Councillors voted Jan. 31 to allow Carmen's to apply for $450,546 and Global Spectrum $110,000 to cover any losses this year.

Mike Zegarac, interim head of finance, will come back to the general issues committee the first week of April to elaborate on why there would be no savings.

"We asked the transition team if there were any potential savings," Zegarac said. The team told him "there were no potential savings to incorporate in the 2013 budget."

But Coun. Brian McHattie wanted to press the groups for some cost reductions, especially in light of HECFI staff being laid off.

"They have reduced staff to the detriment of those families," he said. "It [the transition to private management] was done for the benefit of the taxpayer. If that's not the case, we need to seriously query what we've bought into."

Budget deliberations are scheduled to continue on April 4, with final approval on April 10.

CBC Hamilton's Samantha Craggs reported live from city hall Thursday. Read the coverage here: