Hamilton City Council has had most the fall to absorb the prospect of a proposed 2.8 percent property tax increase for 2014 and now budget discussions have begin in earnest. City Manager Chris Murray comparing Hamilton’s operating budget with other communities says Hamilton’s average tax increase for the past 3 years was an average of 1.2 per cent. Only London and Windsor fared better, with Toronto, Burlington-Halton, Niagara and Kingston posting higher average increases.
Looking at Hamilton’s tax history since amalgamation Murray said “I’d like to refer to 2001 to 2005 as the Rinaldo years”—a reference to then city treasurer Joe Rinaldo who brought in tax increases averaging around 3.4 percent—“and the years since as the Rossini-Zegarak years,” referring to city treasurer Mike Zegarak and his immediate predecessor Rob Rossini; where the average tax increase for the past five years has been 1.5 percent. Murray also pointed out that the tax levels that have been achieved have included a half percent increase in capital spending each year in an attempt to deal with the infrastructure deficit. “We’ve been able to keep tax increases lower and yet spend more on capital to rehabilitate roads,” he told the committee. The city manager promised that citizens would get more opportunity to participate in the budget process, by posting the budget online and inviting citizen comment and by greater use of social media to communicate news about the budget.
In a workshop discussing Hamilton’s capital budget, Councillor Chad Collins complained about a lack of predictability in the way projects are prioritized and funded. He charged that many of the projects sitting on the current capital budget were not even on the sheet two years ago.”There’s no medium to long-term planning,” he said. “To have 50 to 75 percent of the projects in our (capital budget) book not there in 2010 means we are not practicing what we are preaching—we brag about having a plan but we are not following the plan.” In the case of Collins’ own ward 5, approximately $5 Million in trails and other capital amenities was secured outside the city capital budget process, through projects spearheaded by the Hamilton Waterfront Trust which the councillor chaired for a decade. The funding for these projects came from the HWT’s original endowment, deals with the Hamilton Conservation Authority and through accessing Superbuild finding from senior governments.