What a fun time was had by the audience at last night’s city hall meeting. This was the meeting to discuss and decide on what will be cut to achieve the poorly thought out promise of a zero % tax increase. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again-painting yourself into a political corner with an absolute and inflexible promise is a dumb move. But, dumb or not, it won the election for the gang of zeros. So now it’s down to the ugly part of the budget process.
To reach this year’s zero, city council voted to reduce the contribution to the new affordable housing reserve fund by $1 million. This proposed cut was introduced at the last minute to the agenda last night, without giving the citizens a chance to speak up and object to its inclusion on the cut list. The councillors in favour of the cut have tried to reassure people that there will actually be more housing units available in the near future despite the cut, through some kind of planning magic that they are reluctant to explain. They also found $2.3 million in secret staffing savings. No really, it was secret-that element of the budget was decided “in camera”, with no transparency or accountability. Will this $2.3 million come from layoffs? Only the secret council knows.
And to scrape their way to the zero finish line, council voted to divert $1.3 million from the city’s various reserve funds. Yes, I know that the word ‘reserve’ can be mistaken for ‘extra’ , but it’s not. This is the money that is set aside each year to make sure the city can pay for upcoming maintenance costs, both planned and unplanned. The city staff had warned council that doing this would cause problems in the upcoming year, but the warnings were ignored. Our Mayor, Joe Fontana, declared that the reserve money must be used “It’s for a rainy day, and ladies and gentlemen, it’s hailing out there.” Keep in mind that the crisis Mr. Fontana is trying to use to justify the reserve spending is one he made. He doesn’t want to use the reserve fund to pay off some of our city debt and reduce the $60 million we have to pay to service that debt this year. Nope, he wants to shortchange our long-term strategic and financial stability to make himself look good. And to save me, the home-owning taxpayer, 26 bucks. That 26 bucks sure will come in handy when my car falls into a sinkhole downtown, though.
And while I’m casting blame about, let me send a special “thanks for opting out” to the 160 000 eligible London voters who just couldn’t be bothered to vote in 2010. Congratulations! This is the kind of government your apathy bought and paid for. If 117 of you in Ward 14 had gotten off your asses and voted against Sandy White, the vote to cut affordable housing would have failed. But who cares about the 8+ year wait for affordable housing, when I have an extra 3 bucks a month to blow.