Cuts to transit service, road rehabilitation, and community grants are all on the table as Waterloo Region aims to limit a property tax increase in the coming year to 1.9 per cent.

Regional councillors will vote on Wednesday just how to bridge a projected $8-million budget gap in the $387-million operating budget for 2014.

A staff report released Friday proposes saving $2.5 million by finding administrative efficiencies. But staff have outlined a number of service cut options to make up the remaining $5.5 million, including:

  • The elimination of Grand River Transit bus routes 18, 32 and 66, all of which staff classify as "low performing." Route 18 would be replaced by a modified route 4, 32 by a modified 14, and 66 by a modified 71.
  • Reductions in service on other routes. The GO shuttle would also be eliminated.  Staff also suggest the option of discontinuing unspecified "various low performing single trips." Those reductions could save up to $831,000.
  • The reduction of $2.3 million in contributions to a long-term road rehabilitation reserve fund, a move that staff say “will result in a further increase to the infrastructure deficit.”
  • The closure of the four rural waste transfer stations in the townships, for a potential savings of $308,250.
  •  A reduction in hours at a region-funded public dental health clinic for a savings of $66,810.
  • The elimination or reduction of community grants, including $175,000 in affordable housing grant and a $30,000 social planning grant.
  • The elimination of the use of summer students, for a savings of $204,900.

"I've been on regional council almost 20 years and chairing the budget committee since 2000, and this clearly is the most difficult budget that we've had to deal with," said Tom Galloway, chair of the region's budget committee.

"I think at this point in time most of council will be pleased, but some may want to go further."

One of the main reasons for the service cut recommendations is low property assessment growth, which is estimated at 1.25 per cent in 2014, the lowest it has been since 2000.

"We try to keep it around the rate of inflation, and I think over a long period of time we're done pretty well in that regard, but our assessment growth being being very low in the past number of years has made that very difficult," said Galloway.

Waterloo Regional Police, meanwhile, requested a 4.7 per cent increase to its budget. That corresponds to a 1.1 per cent increase in the regional levy. However, staff recommend only a 0.9 per cent increase for the police budget.

"That's certainly within reach without any major service reductions, and so I think the police will be on the target that regional council has given them," said Galloway.

Waterloo Regional police Chief Matt Torigian shared Galloway's optimism, saying the regional target could be achieved without staff cuts.

"We're pretty confident we can get down to 0.9 per cent, or at least very close to 0.9, and we'll have that for our board to look at in December," said Torigian.