Hamilton council approves 2.9% tax increase, but has COVID-19 on its mind
An extensive debate over the budget right now, says one councillor, is like 'living in a bubble'
Hamilton city councillors passed an average 2.9 per cent property tax increase Friday, but not before some councillors wanted to shave it down more, and others said the city has bigger problems to deal with right now.
All but Coun. Terry Whitehead voted in favour of the 2020 operating budget, which will see a $121 annual tax increase for the average home assessed at $380,300. The overall net operating budget is $924 million.
Whitehead wanted to trim the budget more, saying taxpayers already can't afford to pay their taxes, and seniors can barely afford stay in their homes.
Coun. Brad Clark also wanted to see an increase of 2.6 per cent, and "reluctantly" voted for 2.9 per cent.
"I'm not thrilled with the 2.9 per cent, but given what we're facing, given the public health emergency we're under, given the time crunch, I can't in good conscience vote against this budget," said Clark, who represents upper Stoney Creek.
"If we had more time, I'd love to look at other items we might be able to consider. We don't have that."
Coun. Sam Merulla said 2.9 per cent is "a great number to work with," and given the COVID-19 pandemic, it's not the time to debate the budget for hours. Councillors need to get back to their families and communities, and staff back to dealing with the pandemic
"You guys are talking like nothing's happening out there," he said. "Talk about living in a bubble."
"People are dying and we're spinning our wheels here today … Folks, let's put this thing in perspective. Let's get through this day. Let's get this thing approved."
Council also voted to spend $216,000 in 2020 to pay non-union casual part-time workers a living wage, effective July 1.
Councillors approved the budget while seated at different spots around the council chamber to maintain a two-metre separation between them. After the budget vote, one councillor rushed to visit an ailing parent before Hamilton Health Sciences closed the hospital doors indefinitely to visitors an hour later.
Councillors also voted to amend their procedural bylaw to allow phone-in votes, and to look at waiving interest for 30 days for people late on their tax payments.