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Hamilton 2019 budget talks: low taxes at odds with needed road repairs

The majority of Hamilton city councillors aren't willing to accelerate road repairs if it means adding to the 2019 operating budget.
The majority of Hamilton city councillors aren't willing to accelerate road repairs if it means adding to the 2019 operating budget. Nick Westoll

The state of roads and sidewalks has dominated the latest round of budget talks at Hamilton City Hall on Monday.

In the wake of the weekend snowstorm, councillors have requested a report that recalculates the cost of the city taking over responsibility for clearing sidewalks.

READ MORE: Hamilton buffeted by snow as winter storm hits Ontario

When Hamilton politicians last considered offering such a service a few years ago, the estimate in a staff report was a $34 annually for the average homeowner.

City Councillors also voted 9-to-6 on Monday not to add 0.5 per cent to this year’s residential tax increase, specific to playing catch up on road repairs throughout Hamilton.

Acting City Manager Mike Zegarac says the $47 million that is currently spent each year on repairs is “somewhere in the ballpark of half of what we would have to invest to maintain the current state of our roads.”

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READ MORE: More money for roads as Hamilton council prepares to approve 2018 budget

Mayor Fred Eisenberger urged councillors to add the 0.5 per cent to the tax bill saying that while “folks don’t want any more taxes, that may be true, the reality is they also want a functioning and operating city.”

Ancaster Coun. Lloyd Ferguson was among those who voted against the motion saying he’s “looking at cutting, not adding” to the city’s operating budget.

READ MORE: Water rates to rise by 4.6 per cent in Hamilton

Flamborough Coun. Judi Partridge says that during last fall’s municipal election campaign, she didn’t hear one person say “we’d like you to put our taxes up”, adding that “people are angry about their taxes.”

Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann cited a different reason for voting against the enhancement insisting “we’ve got thousands of people across the city waiting for safe, affordable and dignified housing”, adding that “on a principled basis,” she can’t vote to approve additional money for roads.

READ MORE: Hamilton police budget seeks 27 new hires

Hamilton’s $227 million 2019 capital budget was approved during Monday’s meeting, however, operating budget discussions will continue for several more weeks.

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Councillors are still working to whittle down a residential tax increase that currently stands at about 3.2 per cent.

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