Waterloo Region's budget committee met Wednesday for the first time since staff released a proposed budget that suggests a host of service cuts and administrative efficiencies in order to bridge an anticipated $8-million shortfall in 2014.
Members of the public also provided their input at an evening session following the afternoon council meeting.
A final vote on the budget won't take place until January, but councillors may suggest changes on Wednesday based on their priorities or public input.
Staff proposes saving $2.5 million by finding administrative efficiencies. To bridge the remainder of the spending gap, staff has proposed a number of service cuts to save a total of $5.5 million. Those cuts are needed if the region is to meet a council-mandated goal of keeping a property tax increase of 1.9 per cent, which doesn't include an additional 0.9 per cent hike to support the police budget.
The proposed cuts include eliminating low-performing Grand River Transit bus routes, a reduced contribution to a long-term road repair fund and the reduction or outright elimination of some community grants, including slashing $175,000 in affordable housing grants,
Steve Garrison, general manager of the Cambridge Non-Profit Housing Corporation, says the money is used to maintain the region's existing stock of 9,000 affordable housing units.
"The other use of the fund is seed money to leverage federal and provincial dollars to develop new housing. There is an opportunity cost if that fund disappears," he said.
"It may slow down our ability to develop new affordable housing," Garrison said.
While some groups are fighting to keep their funding, others are looking for more money.
Lori Prospero, the executive director of Owl Child Care Services of Ontario, is pushing for more funding for the childcare fee assistance program.
The program helps low-income parents afford proper childcare. Without additional funding, Prospero said more families will be forced to use unlicensed daycare facilities.
She cited the poisoning allegations against Christine Allen, a 32-year-old Kitchener woman that once operated an unlicensed daycare, as cause for concern.
"Those are not stories that we want to hear when it comes to talking about our children and how we're caring for them," Prospero said ahead of the meeting.