A marathon budget session at London City Hall ended Thursday night with councillors holding the line on a 2.8% tax hike.
Councillors approved new spending on transit, job creation, affordable housing and the environment, but did it without adding to the tax bill.
That means the average London homeowner will pay an extra $76 on their tax bill next year. That figure rises to $101 when water and sewer rates are taken into account.
Councillors met for seven hours on Thursday as the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee. They will meet again December 6th to approve the budget.
Council approved free rides on the LTC for all kids 12 and under after the treasurer found $150,000 in savings from existing budgets.
Mayor Matt Brown called the decision a ‘milestone’ for London.
“This is another one of those milestones that we’re going to look back on and remember that we were able to do this as a council, we were able to work with administration to find a way to fund this within existing dollars.”
Providing free rides for kids 12 and under was one of the 112 recommendations made by Mayor Brown’s Poverty Panel.
In the days leading up to the budget deliberations there had been pressure from the public on council to begin funding some of the anti-poverty issues they’ve trumpeted.
“It’s inclusive and it doesn’t identify, it identifies people as people and I think that’s really important as we move forward. I’m not saying this is the answer to everything, I’m not saying it’s going to be magical but I think it’s a step in the right direction to encourage the younger demographic to use public transit,” said ward six councillor Phil Squire.
Londoners won’t have to wait long to capitalize on the free bus rides, LTC General Manager Kelly Paleczny indicated they would begin in the New Year.
“Essentially we can have it implemented on January 1, noting at that time there wouldn’t be a mechanism in place for us to technically track the ridership so we’ll have to work out some kind of an arrangement for the invoicing based on previous year ridership and then an adjustment at some point but technically we could have it up and running as soon as the beginning of the year.”
While council was able to fund the free bus rides through existing budgets, they had to dip to reserves to fund another.
Politicians tapped into a reserve fund to meet a budget request of $258,000 from the London Middlesex Housing Corporation. Additional increases of $65,000 in 2018 and $66,000 in 2019 will be funded through tax increases.
Councillors went against city policy to meet a $179,000 budget request from the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. The money will come from assessment growth, even though city policy states that money shouldn’t be used for those reasons. It’s unclear how council will cover expected UTRCA budget increases for 2018 and 2019 as they’re using one-time funding to meet the 2017 ask.
A request by City Manager Art Zuidema get $150,000 towards the Community Economic Road Map was denied, sort of.
Politicians approved $100,000 to spend on implementing the road map, but balked at paying $50,000 to hire an intern to assist with the process.
Decisions on property tax assessment growth and the 2016 surplus won’t be available until early 2017.