Hamilton city councillors face $52M operating budget shortfall

Hamilton city councillors are gearing up for another difficult budget cycle in 2020.
Hamilton city councillors are gearing up for another difficult budget cycle in 2020. Ken Mann/CHML

Hamilton city councillors have been reminded of the difficult task that lies ahead during 2020 budget deliberations.

Mike Zegarac, the city’s general manager of finance, says residents are facing a 5.5 per cent tax increase without service cuts and facility closures or increased user fees next year.

READ MORE: Property taxes rise 2.5% as Hamilton’s 2019 operating budget is formally approved

At a general issues committee meeting on Wednesday morning, he confirmed that council is looking at a budget shortfall of $52 million and $25 million in efficiencies would be needed to get the increase down to a more manageable 2.6 per cent.

Zegarac says provincial policy changes are one significant budget pressure, although that outlook has improved since July after some Ford government cuts were reversed or delayed.

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Other budget pressures accounting for Hamilton’s proposed 5.5 per cent average tax increase include $12.5 million in wages, a $2-million increase in insurance premiums and $1.5-million Workplace Safety and Insurance Board shortfall.

A 5.5 per cent tax hike would amount to an extra $196 for the “average” Hamilton household — average meaning a property with an assessed value of $358,600.

READ MORE: Who pays the highest property taxes in Ontario?

“Based on all the pressures that we’re seeing so far, this is going to be a tough budget year,” said Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger. “I look forward to it like I look forward to my next root canal.”

Ward 6 Coun. Tom Jackson adds that the budget will come down to a balancing act between “tax increases at a reasonable level” and “whatever service levels will be forthcoming.”