Thursday, December 3, 2009

Budget Details Released and Reaction Will be Mixed

Last Wednesday, officials from the City of Guelph including Mayor Karen Farbridge, Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig and Treasurer Margaret Neubauer, outlined to the media budget proposals that were being brought to council this past Monday. The good news first: the City did not send our banking information to the lawyer holding $100 million in trust for the Nubian prince that needs access to foreign banking institutions in order to get his inheritance. The band news is that the 2010 is looking at quite a substantial shortfall of available funds, and its going to take some serious cuts to make up the difference.

Planning for this year’s budget actually started in May with city managers looking towards the fact this was probably going to be a year for cuts rather than spending. Mayor Farbridge said that in a time when families and employers are having to make some tough decisions in regard to their own finances, then the municipality should do its part. She added that although their have been signs of some recovery from the current economic downturn, it will still take about two to three years for Guelph to feel the effects of any recovery. So with a mind on lean times ahead, city staff is presenting a number of options for city council to consider for the 2010 budget.

To begin with the city is trying to mitigate a loss of $8.1 million in revenues as much as possible. What this means is that even without any new spending, and using the numbers from the 2009 budget, there's already a 5.2 per cent increase in the 2010 budget that needs to be covered. Contractual obligations, collective agreements and compensation account for another 4 per cent increase. So when it's all said and done, the City of Guelph basically needs to find another $14.4 million for 2010. So where is much of that money going to come from? Cuts mostly, hope city officials, and their proposed cuts are divided into two categories: Department Reduction Proposals" and "Other Considerations." With the options presented in the "Department Reduction Proposals" the city can save 4.48 per cent or $7.4 million. If all the items under "Other Considerations" are enacted then a further $2.5 million can be shaved off the deficit, bringing the increase down to a more manageable 3 per cent.

If those sound like serious numbers, they are, and the impact will be felt by just about everyone in the city. Biggest of all considerations is the delay of capital projects previously discussed. Basically, anything that hasn’t had started being built is on the back-burner until 2011 at least. As for projects in various phase of completion, their openings will be pushed back by months in order to save money. For example, the east end branch of the library will not open until June 2010. Also, City staff might be asked to take up to 5 unpaid days off and 29 full-time positions could be eliminated, hopefully through attrition such as retirements and resignations. Transit may be hit worst of all with the proposed elimination of stat holidays schedules, a reduced service summer schedule and a 7 per cent fare increase. There could also be a general increase on fees for rentals of city facilities.

Things get worse under the “Other Considerations” category. If councillors decide to accept these further measures to tighten up the deficit then it could mean the closing of the Centennial and Lyon's pools, the closing Centennial rink, eliminating John Galt Day activities, ending two hour free parking downtown, no longer having any special waste collection (like for Christmas trees), shuttering the household hazardous waste facility and adjusting the Industrial and Perimeter transit routes (Note: this does not mean cancelling them). Contingencies if these options should be adopted are being worked out, but it was stressed repeatedly in the briefing that these are merely options and don’t necessarily represent the shape of things to come.

Don’t like what you just read, well you can let your voice be heard by council starting with the meeting on Tuesday December 8 at 6 pm in the council chamber. For more information, check out the meeting schedule on the City’s website here: or pay a visit to my blog at

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