By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The purse strings are being kept pretty tight in 2018.
On Nov. 16, the city’s external agencies presented their budget asks to the finance committee and each of them came with a requested budget only a slight bump above the amount supplied this year.
In total, the City of Oshawa funds several organizations that provide services to citizens, including the Oshawa Museum, the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa Public Libraries (OPL), Oshawa Senior Citizens Centre (OSCC), and the Parkwood Foundation.
Each of these agencies appeared before the committee to provide a brief outline of their requests and upcoming plans for 2018.
The OPL, by far the city’s largest external agency budget, is looking for a two per cent increase over its 2017 budget, bumping its total to $9,052,727.
The OSCC is seeking a 2.4 per cent increase in 2018, increasing its budget to $1.6 million, while the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce is seeking a budget grant of $57,237, a 1.9 per cent increase over 2017.
The Robert McLaughlin Gallery is looking to council for $813,332 for its operating budget, a 2.4 per cent increase over 2017, and after two straight years of increases, the Oshawa Historical Society has cut its budget by nearly 12 per cent, looking for $427,300 for the upcoming year.
The Parkwood Foundation has kept its budget request the same as 2017 at $325,000. However, the group is looking for a helping hand of $75,000 to aid with issues related to its greenhouse restoration project and a contractor walking off the job.
And while each of the increases have been kept fairly minimal, each of the agencies pointed to pressures from the potential increase to minimum wage as being an issue in the upcoming year, and with only slight increases comes a lot less wiggle room.
“There is not a lot of room for movement,” said Laura Suchan, the executive director of the Oshawa Museum, noting that any cuts made by council would lead to a revisiting of the organization’s budget priorities. “We’d have to go back to the drawing board.”
The slim requests follow a report from city staff that showed a potential 3.8 per cent tax increase could be in the cards for Oshawa in the coming year. That report, delivered to council in October, had councillors vehement that the increase, which would mean approximately $80 more on the average tax bill, wasn’t going to happen.
The report, slated to be up for discussion once again at the Nov. 16 finance committee meeting, was removed from the agenda by staff.
That outlook also predicts a 2.51 per cent increase in 2019, following which the burden will ease as the increase is projected to drop to 1.83 per cent and 1.85 per cent in 2020 and 2021 respectively, mostly due to the city paying off some of its larger debt bills.
In terms of the city’s reserve accounts, staff have recommended that council needs to start following a much more disciplined approach to contributing to their savings. A previous report outlined how in the coming years, if nothing changed, reserves earmarked for capital projects will take a nosedive as more and more dollars will be going toward infrastructure projects.
For the 2018 budget, the city’s budget discussions will be stretched out over three months.
To start off, on Dec. 11, those time-sensitive projects will be approved along with councillors and residents getting their first look at the 2018 capital budget. The city’s operating budget will be presented on Dec. 15.
In the new year, the budget will be open for public feedback during a meeting on Jan. 8, followed by two days of deliberations, set for Jan. 16 and 19.