Homeowners in London, Ont., are on track to receive a 2.8-per cent increase to property taxes next year, down from the 3.8 per cent originally projected by city staff.
The reduced tax hike is tied to a series of amendments put forward by city staff that contain a mix of savings and investments to be included in the 2022 annual update to London’s multi-year budget.
The budget covers costs and spending between 2020 and 2023, but council is allowed to revisit the financial plan each year.
During a meeting of the strategic priorities and policy committee on Thursday, nearly all amendments garnered an endorsement from city council.
The largest savings in the amendments include more than $3.7 million found through targeted service reviews of various city department budgets. These reviews are projected to create repeated annual savings of more than $3 million for 2023 and beyond.
Another $2.7 million in savings was found in a reduction to required investments to child care and the Ontario Works program, both of which are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bumping the fine for illegally parking on private property from $45 to $60 also lent $100,000 in savings, according to city staff. However, they noted that this amendment was originally intended to deter repeat offenders rather than find savings.
The amendments also included required spending for the city’s funding of the Middlesex-London Health Unit, which had a tax levy impact of about $640,000 in 2022.
A summarized list of the amendments can be found in this presentation which was delivered to councillors at the start of Thursday’s meeting.
Councillors were on board with all amendments, apart from cuts to the Neighbourhood Decision Making program and the Neighbourhood Small Events Fund Grant program.
The proposed cuts would’ve reduced both programs’ funding in half, while only having a minuscule savings impact on 2022’s tax levy.
Deputy Mayor Josh Morgan was among several councillors who jumped to the Neighbourhood Decision Making program’s defence.
The program divides London into five areas and gives each up to $50,000 for citizen-generated projects intended to improve those areas. The winning ideas from 2021 included ice rinks, recreational equipment upgrades and new benches, among others.
“If we cut this one, it’s hard to get it back, and it’s cutting something that people are very passionate about, that they’re directly involved in, and that they’re actually making really great changes in their neighbourhoods that they care about,” Morgan said, adding that the program has generated countless ideas for improving the city.
“We may have only implemented about 80 of them, but there are tons of great ideas across the city that I know our staff have taken and incorporated into annual updates to parks and trail systems.”
All councillors voted against cutting the funding, apart from Ward 3 Coun. Mo Salih, Ward 10 Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen and Ward 13 Coun. John Fyfe-Millar. Salih later clarified during the meeting that he had intended to vote against cutting the funding.
As for the Neighbourhood Small Events Fund Grant program, which provides a one-time grant of up to $500 per year to community or neighbourhood groups to assist with event expenses, Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer said cutting the program’s funding in half is not worth $10,000 in savings.
“In my experience, this really small grant program helps people who just don’t have the money to do these things without it,” Helmer said.
“It’s one of those things that the city does that really helps people overcome those financial barriers and pull off some pretty cool events at low cost overall … I really see this one as an enabler of some pretty cool activity.”
Helmer, along with other councillors, also noted that this program would be in high demand if the COVID-19 pandemic winds die down next year, allowing for restrictions on social gatherings to be lifted.
Councillors voted 10-5 to reject the proposed funding cut. Van Meerbergen, along with Ward 1 Coun. Michael van Holst, Ward 2 Coun. Shawn Lewis, Ward 8 Coun. Steve Lehman and Ward 12 Coun. Elizabeth Peloza had voted to support the cut.
City council is nearing the end of its annual budget update process for 2022, with final approval set to arrive on Dec. 21.
The 229-page draft budget update can be read in its entirety on the city’s website.