Waterloo Region councillors will have their work cut out for them on Wednesday as they review next year's proposed budget amid concerns about the state of its struggling landfill.
Councillors must decide what local government services will be cut in order to scale down an $8 million dollar revenue shortfall in order to hold the line on a 1.9 per cent tax hike for the average Waterloo Region homeowner. A number of options are outlined in a 456-page document released Friday.
It's a delicate balancing act, according to Tom Galloway, who's spent 13 years as the region's budget chief, and calls this year’s exercise "the most difficult budget we've had to deal with."
A combination of factors is to blame, but Galloway points to diminishing revenues from the region's landfill operation as the chief culprit.
"It is the single most biggest factor," Galloway told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris Monday.
Declining revenues account for a financial hit of “over $4 million this year,” said Galloway. “And it was $2 or $3 million last year."
"Industrial, commercial, institutional waste continues to be exported by the large waste management companies to private landfills in Ontario and in some cases, Michigan and that was revenue we had relied on in the past to pay for our waste management operation locally, including the curbside residential pickup."
Also factoring into this year's potential tax hike is a lower than expected assessment growth rate, according to Galloway, which is projected at 1.25 per cent.
"Historically this is very low and it is a major factor in the budget when we normally experience 2 to 2.5 per cent, sometimes even higher and that really helps with the budget each year, but for the last few years now particularly since 2008 when the economy went south so to speak, it is a direct impact of current economic times," he said.
Transit and transportation cuts on the table
Councillors will also have to tackle the difficult issue of service cuts, which will be a key means of bridging 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 and 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.