London, Ont. four-year budget unchanged after final debate

File Photo. Global News

The London, Ont., budget came out of the final budget debate looking much the same as it went in.

At the Thursday afternoon meeting, councillors voted on amendments proposed in the four-year municipal budget as well as the business cases that weren’t so successful.

As has been the case with previous budget discussions, the London police budget request of $672 million over the next four years dominated much of the discussion.

A proposed change to the budget from Ward 9 Coun. Anna Hopkins to peel five per cent off each of the business cases pertaining to the police budget failed to even make it to the debate stage.

Another motion from Hopkins to reduce the funding of the police vehicle and equipment requirements case also failed in an 8-7 vote.

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“It’s important to have the conversation to see if there is a possibility that the police budget sharing in the fiscal constraints that we’re asking from other agencies,” Hopkins said.

“It’s important that we do ask the questions of the police budget and to hold everyone accountable, so I’m looking to reduce it by five per cent.”

Ward 7 Coun. Corrine Rahman proposed an amendment to Hopkins’ motion to further reduce the equipment by $867,000 over four years.

“We have an opportunity today to save some money in 2024 for residents, and in subsequent years, we can either continue to pass on those savings to residents, or we can make some other choices,” Rahman said.

“And we can do all of that without impacting police service so the police still get everything they want.”

The budget includes the hiring of 97 new officers, new body cameras, funding for electric cruisers, and a light-armoured vehicle.

Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis, who has been vocal in his support for the police budget, said that the money would have a significant impact.

“Could have a significant impact on one less cruiser on the road, it could have a significant impact on getting into the electrical vehicle market, it could mean that an officer’s not wearing a body camera at some point when they’re accused of misconduct,” Lewis said.

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“(The deputy chief) said any reduction in their budget on any of these items would have an impact on their ability to staff and get people out on the streets and addressing community safety concerns.”

Pushes to expand a housing stability fund, park operations service enhancements, and a program to help clean hoarders’ homes all failed.

All three lost in 7-8 votes, with councillors Hopkins, Rahman, David Ferreira, Elizabeth Peloza, Hadleigh McAlister, Skylar Franke, and Sam Trosow voting in favour for all three.

“It will always be cheaper to keep people in their housing, rather than putting them into housing; both cheaper financially and cheaper socially,” said Ferreira.

“Imagine the anxiety, imagine the experience, imagine what you would go through when you know that you’re at risk of losing your house, and then when you lose your housing, and then when you’re out on the street, that is a huge, huge cost.”

The tax increase for 2024 that has been approved will add $286 to the tax bill of the average London home, that being one assessed at $252,000.

This is the first multi-year budget put together under “strong mayor” legislation. Mayor Josh Morgan had to present a budget before Feb. 1, at which point council had 30 days to present any amendments.

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The mayor now has 10 days to veto any amendments made in the budget. He’s stated that he doesn’t plan on using that power.

The tax hikes as they stand sit at 8.7 per cent in 2024, 8.9 per cent in 2025, 5.8 per cent in 2026 and 6.8 per cent in 2027. Budget updates in future years could potentially alter those numbers.

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