The latest operating budget session with the Hamilton General Issues Committee exposed a topic that has been bubbling under the surface since the COVID pandemic began—municipal employees haven’t felt the pain anywhere near as much as the general population. The discussion started as General Manager of finance Mike Zegarac presented a budget that at this point is calling for a 2.5 percent property tax increase. Most of that increase relates to salaries. Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson asked if there was any ability to suspend collective agreements for the emergency as the province has been able to do under its state of emergency. Councillor Tom Jackson said he is getting feedback from his constituents that suggests they feel that many city employees have been underutilized during the crisis. Last year staff presented a report that said that out of the city’s more than 8,000 employees, only 40-odd were rendered redundant by the pandemic.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger reminded council that the province has predicated its financial support to municipalities on municipalities not reducing their service levels. The province doesn’t want municipalities to use COVID emergency funding as a way of offloading their ongoing costs. So far the province has more or less covered all of the City’s COVID-related costs as well as making up for lost revenue on services such as transit.
Finance GM Mike Zegarac in his presentation pointed out how limited are the opportunities for a municipal council to avoid tax increases. In terms of revenue the only option other than raising taxes is to jack up user fee increases in many areas, introduce new fees for service or reduce or eliminate fee waivers.
On the services side there are more options but none of them easy to achieve without pushback from those affected. These include:
• Reduce response time to inquiries, request for service.
• Reduce capability for policy work including in-year requests from Council.
• Reduce service hours for facilities/programs.
• Close under utilized facilities.
• Reduce or eliminate service levels where service is under utilized.
• Align service levels to comparator municipalities where the City exceeds
• Align service levels to provincial funding.
• Reduce grants to external agencies.
• Eliminate / Close non-core services / facilities