London

Budget pressures could axe Christmas tree curbside collection

City of London staff have released a list of potential service reductions for councillors to consider as they look for ways to ease pressure on taxpayers heading into talks for the four-year budget.

Plan to boost security at central library, hot spot lending program could be on the block

Removing Christmas Tree pickup is one of a handful of potential service reductions city staff are putting forward as an option for council to address budget pressures. Axing the program would save $120,000 annually. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

The City of London's Christmas tree curbside collection program could become a victim of budget pressures as the city begins work on its four-year budget. 

In a bid to limit any property tax increase, council asked staff in November to come up with a list of potential service reductions. 

Staff released their list of possible cuts on Wednesday, one day after tabling the draft budget.

A plan to increase security at London's Central public library could become a victim of budget pressures. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

The list of potential cuts, with the savings they'll deliver include:

  • Curbside Christmas tree collection ($120,000). If this program is axed, it means homeowners will have to tote their trees to one the city's EnviroDepots. The service is currently available to about 120,000 households and between 10,000 and 20,000 use it in a typical year. 
     
  • Planned security enhancements to the downtown library ($107,000). The library currently spends about $200,000 a year on security, mostly at the Central Library location, which works out to about 9,500 hours a year. The service is contracted out to G4S Security and five security officers work at the library on a typical day. This money would have funded an extra 1,700 hours of security in 2022 and 2023 and about half that total in 2021. The library has dealt with complaints about street-involved people sleeping in the library and using drugs and alcohol but staff also say the completion of Dundas Place has increased traffic, which prompted them to put this budget request forward. "The LPL has already received numerous complaints from the public regarding the illegal activities, violent behaviour, vandalism and drug/alcohol consumption at the Library," reads their budget submission. "This trend will only escalate if inadequately addressed."
     
  • Planned staffing increases to Central Library ($42,000).
     
  • Promissory Note forgiveness ($912,000). This was a debt the library incurred when it moved into the Bostwick Community Centre and sold its branch on Wonderland Road, which didn't earn as much as expected. The city had a plan to cover this with a 10-year, interest-bearing promissory note, then later moved to forgive the debt because the library has no ability to generate revenue to cover the payback charges with interest. If the city doesn't forgive the debt, library staff say it would leave them facing an annual budget hit of $228,000, about 0.2 per cent of the library's total budget. 
     
  • Library hot-spot lending program ($188,000). The library has been lending out 75 Hotspots for three-week stints as part of a pilot project that started last year and has since proven incredibly popular. "The intent was to break down the divide between those who can and cannot afford regular high-speed Internet access," says a budget submission. As of November, there were 163 holds on the devices – "as soon as one is checked in, it goes right back out." This money would fund the program for four years. "Without this program, Londoners will continue to experience the digital divide that the Hotspots have helped to alleviate," reads their budget submission. 
     
  • Museum London - reductions to programs and exhibitions ($236,000). 
     
  • Reduce road network improvements for minor streets ($3.2 million). This includes pavement rehabilitation on residential neighbourhood streets that are in poor condition combined with curb repairs, sidewalk upgrades and new sidewalk connections.
     
  • Transfer portion of conservation authority costs to waste water and treatment budget ($11.5 million). 

The potential cuts listed above have the potential to trim the budget levy by 0.2 per cent. 

In the draft budget tabled Tuesday, staff proposed a list of 25 business cases, including 16 "administratively prioritized." 

Nine other business bases are listed as "Items for consideration."

The 2020-2023 draft budget was tabled on Tuesday. Ward 7 councillor and budget chief Josh Morgan joined London Morning to talk about what taxpayers can expect in the coming years. 8:03

Keeping service levels as they are and absorbing provincial cuts puts London on track for a 3.2 per cent property tax increase averaged over the four years of the budget. That translates to a $96 increase for the average homeowner with an assessed value of $241,000. If all the business cases are approved, London is looking at a 4.5 per cent increase, or about $136 for the average homeowner. 

The list of potential reductions released Wednesday will come before council at the Jan. 7 Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee Meeting. 

About the Author

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.