Guelph city council has approved its 2020 budget, which comes with a 3.91 per cent property tax increase.
It’s the largest increase since a 3.55 per cent increase in 2015, well above the five-year average of 3.06 per cent, and it follows a 2.69 per cent increase for 2019.
Council made the decision on Tuesday evening in a 10-3 vote following weeks of deliberations. Councillors Bob Bell, Dan Gibson and Christine Billings voted against the budget.
A large chunk in next year’s spending will be going to the Guelph Police Service, which saw its massive budget-increase request make it through deliberations unscathed.
The police services board approved $46.1 million in spending for 2020, which is a 9.8 per cent increase from 2019.
There was talk of councillors wanting to make some alterations to the police budget. But in the end, there was only a last-minute motion to spread out the spending increase over two years, which ultimately failed.
Council did approve of using $500,000 from a funding reserve to help offset the police budget.
Chief Gord Cobey has repeatedly defended the increase in spending, saying that the service is not adequately equipped to meet the needs of the community.
He pointed to overtime reaching record highs with more than 40,000 hours this year alone at a cost of over $2 million. There are also several officers on extended leave.
The approved police budget will see the hiring of several new officers, including members on the front line and two traffic constables.
Several civilian positions will be created as well, including a wellness coordinator along with a media relations coordinator, which is a person currently filled by a sworn officer.
“It has been a tough sell to the community, I will openly admit that,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie.
But Guthrie added that when he explains to the community why the police need to spend more, 95 per cent of them come around.
Ward 2 Coun. Rodrigo Goller said he has heard troubling things from his constituents.
According to Goller, there are some residents who are afraid to use the Carden Street train station and some others that carry a knife around the downtown core because they don’t feel safe.
“For police services, we need to provide the funding that is needed to keep our security safe,” Goller said. “This budget request has come as a response to the community.”
The city budget also includes $4.5 million in funding for Guelph General Hospital that will be spread out over six years at $750,000.
Some last-minute motions that passed include $60,500 to clean up the city’s boulevards and medians, $100,000 to install security cameras at The Elliott long-term care home, and $170,000 for affordable housing.
The mayor’s task force on homelessness and addictions also saw additional funding be approved.
A motion to increase ambulance staffing by $376,900 failed and so did a motion to increase the council training budget by $13,500.