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Big decisions yet to come

Several question marks still exist prior to final budget approval

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The first round of deliberations is in the books, but there are still some large question marks for councillors before getting out the seal of approval.

“We have a little bit of room right now, but it’s about delivering a respectful budget that meets the needs of the community and that’s always a challenge,” said Mayor John Henry following the first day of budget talks on Monday.

Along with the budgets for each city department – which included only slight increases to adjust for salaries, contractual obligations and inflation pressures – there was also a list before councillors of supplementary items to be considered this year.

These items include one time costs as well as items that, if introduced and accepted, could have impacts on future budgets as well.

One time costs include a total of $130,000 for a diversity and inclusion program. Of that, $100,000 would go toward a consultant developing a draft community diversity and inclusion program, and $30,000 for a training program on the same.

The list for items that could have potential future budget impacts as well is much lengthier.

Additional security for city parking garages and the new consolidated operations depot could cost the city $153,000 annually and several new positions are also required for snow removal and other tasks.

As well, a new funding strategy for the General Motors Centre includes an annual allocation of a $200,000 to a reserve fund to pay for capital replacements that will be needed to the facility in years to come.

“It’s appropriate to have a reserve fund in place to meet the needs and if we don’t start to put money away, down the road when there’s something of significance that needs to be done, you want to make sure that you’ve got some money into a reserve account to deal with that building,” Henry says.

The first day of deliberations also had councillors concerned about the preliminary 2.94 per cent tax hike facing residents in the proposed budget.

Councillor Bob Chapman says there will need to be discussion on all items in the list, big and small.

“It’s nice to say, ‘let’s take big things out of the budget,’ but sometimes you can’t take big things out of the budget,” he says.

Chapman says the small items, which may not have a large impact on the budget on their own, can have steep impacts once those small dollar figures are tallied up.

“It’s not fair to say we shouldn’t look at the little things because those little things add up. Pennies make dollars, so to speak,” he says.

Budget deliberations continue on Friday, Jan. 29, which could see its final approval.