London, Ont. city council began deliberations Thursday morning on Mayor Josh Morgan’s multi-year budget.
The mayor’s budget was published yesterday with a 2024 tax increase of 8.8 per cent and an average increase of 7.4 per cent over the next four years.
That works out to an extra $290 on the bills of the average London home, that being one assessed at a value of $252,000.
After presenting his budget to his council colleagues, Morgan explained that the high tax hike could only be brought down if significant cuts were made to proposed housing, public safety and transportation business cases.
“We pretty much have to dig into those areas to make any significant moves on the tax rate,” he said. “The tax rate is as it is because we are making significant improvements in those areas.”
Five per cent of that 8.8-per cent increase is coming from a record-setting police budget of $672 million.
Ward 1 Coun. Hadleigh McAllister said that while public safety is at the top of mind for many Londoners, it’s important to consider other budget priorities.
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“Public safety is important, but people staying housed is equally important,” McAllister said. “I just want to remind my colleagues in terms of the investments we’re making…we do also have to recognize the struggle and the situations Londoners are in.”
Before councillors got into the budget debate in proper, Morgan warned them to be careful with the language that’s used during debates.
“It’s pretty easy to characterize something as a cut that isn’t really actually a cut. If someone asks for $5 million, and you give them $3 million, that’s not a cut. That’s a new investment of 3 million. (It) may not have been what they asked for it, but it’s a new investment.”
One business case that got a major cut was the London Public Library, who asked for an approximate 20-per cent increase to their budget. In the mayor’s budget, they got around 5 per cent.
“Each of the increases are more than twice any individual previous year increase in any multi-year budget we’ve given them,” clarified Morgan. “Although the library did not get what it asked for…it is still getting more than it has ever gotten before in a multi-year budget.”
On the other side of things, London police were granted their full budget increase, with an annual spending plan averaging out at $167 million for the next four years. Morgan said the investment comes with a “genuine commitment to a historic level of accountability” from police.
“I was not willing to make a significant investment in public safety without an equally significant investment and commitment to accountability and transparency before this municipal council.”
Some councillors expressed concern about consulting agencies regarding any proposed changes, but Ward 12 Coun. and budget chair Elizabeth Peloza warned that time for discussions would be quite limited.
“This is a legislative process that does not allow for a lot of debate,” Peloza said, adding that annual budget updates would allow council to re-examine aspects of the budget.
Council will continue to deliberate on the budget throughout the rest of the month. Any amendments made have to be formally approved by a council majority, at which point the mayor has 10 days to veto any amendments. Following that, there will be a final 15-day period for council to override the mayor’s veto with a two-thirds majority vote.
Once that period is over, the budget, along with any changes, will be approved without a final council vote.
Another budget committee meeting begins Friday morning at 9:30.
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