1st day of London budget deliberations gets heated with accusations of ‘disorderly conduct’

Councillors Stephen Turner, Elizabeth Peloza, Arielle Kayabaga, and Steve Hillier during a city committee meeting, Dec. 4, 2018.
Councillors Stephen Turner, Elizabeth Peloza, Arielle Kayabaga, and Steve Hillier during a city committee meeting, Dec. 4, 2018. Matthew Trevithick/980 CFPL

Budget talks were temporarily put on hold Thursday as London city councillors debated whether or not to remove Coun. Arielle Kayabaga for “disorderly conduct.”

This came after Kayabaga argued against cutting funding for the London Public Library’s Wi-Fi hotspot lending program, saying the motion was “anti-immigrant, anti-poverty, anti-children, anti-women.”

Thursday is the first of six days set aside from now until Feb. 14 for the strategic priorities and police committee to debate and approve debates for the 2020-23 provincial budget.

The hotspot lending program would cost a total of $188,000 over four years.

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READ MORE: Londoners looking at potential tax increase of 3.2-4.5 per cent

Kayabaga’s comments were cut off by Coun. Shawn Lewis, who said her remarks were disrespectful and inappropriate.

This initiated a series of motions calling for Kayabaga to issue an apology and/or have her comments withdrawn.

Ultimately, the discussion became a vote on whether or not to remove Kayabaga for the remainder of the meeting, which was defeated four to 11.

If the vote had passed, she would have been excluded from all of the budget talks moving forward, because the discussions are considered to be one continuous meeting.

A motion to remove the funding for the hot spot program passed nine to six, but library staff did talk about the potential for a private donor to step in and shoulder the cost.

Councillors have a lot to consider as they look at the many components to the budget that could create a tax levy increase of as much as 4.3 per cent due to provincial downloading.

A portion of the 2020-2023 multi-year budget presentation.
A portion of the 2020-2023 multi-year budget presentation. Supplied by City of London

Coun. Phil Squire says the cuts by the province should not be the city’s responsibility.

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“It has nothing to do with whether I think these things are good or bad, it’s a matter of principle and policy,” Squire said.

“We are a municipal government that needs to concentrate and focus on the areas we have responsibility for.”

Squire was one of several councillors who expressed that the city could not take on the full responsibility of the province’s cuts.

“The municipality and property tax base are not the most appropriate places to fund some of these items,” Coun. Josh Morgan said.

READ MORE: Budget deliberations get underway at London City Hall

Councillors started with the culture section of the budget, approving all line items related to the operating budget, capital budget and capital forecast, except for $54,000 in provincial cuts to Museum London’s operating budget.

The motion to approve the funds lost five to 10.

“Over the next several days, $54,000, $100,000 there, $25,000 here; it starts to add up,” Coun. Shawn Lewis said.

“Unless it’s an issue of public safety, I am going to hold the line. I am not going to willingly step in and backfill the provincial government’s responsibilities.”

Lewis added that those taking issue with the city not shouldering the province’s cuts should address those concerns with their MPPs.

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To maintain the bare minimum services, the city is still looking at a tax levy increase of 3.2 per cent, which factors in some provincial downloading.

Municipal funding takes centre stage at mayors’ meeting
Municipal funding takes centre stage at mayors’ meeting

In its recent 2020 pre-budget submission to the Ontario government, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario said municipal governments are currently spending around $3 billion annually on responsibilities that are traditionally considered provincial.

“At the same time, Ontario’s provincial spending per capita is the lowest in Canada,” the report went on to say.

Some city agencies and committees have already taken steps to reduce their budget, with cuts totalling $17 million over the next four years already being factored in.

As the first day finished up, councillors found a total of .1 per cent in reductions to the tax levy by approving the reduction of four business cases, including the hotspot lending program, library security enhancement program and planned library staffing increases.