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Tax hike sees minor decrease during deliberations

Final approval slated for Feb. 5.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Dollars were divided and cents were shaved, but in two days of deliberations, city council could only drop the slated tax increase by 0.22 per cent.

The first document presented by city staff would have seen Oshawa tax payers taking an additional $65 hit on their tax bills. That proposed increase was brought down to 2.72 per cent from 2.94 per cent by council after a pair of full day deliberations on Jan. 25 and 29. The decrease equates to an approximate $55 increase on the average tax bill for Oshawa residents.

“I’m confident that still will come back…and give us some more opportunities for council to consider,” said Councillor Bob Chapman before the second day of deliberations adjourned. “I think we’ve done some good work, but we’re not finished yet.”

The final day of deliberations and approval is set for Friday, Feb. 5.

After the second day of talks, council was able to make a few additions to the 2016 budget through the use of reserves and interfund notes.

A $50,000 savings was found by cutting a proposed $100,000 Rundle Tower renovation in half, but that decision was equalized by the implementation of new security measures at city parking garages for $59,000 a year.

A pair of big ticket items were also addressed through the second day of deliberations.

The downtown saw a $253,000 chunk of money set aside for a streetscape redevelopment on King Street between Ontario and Mary Streets. The project is proposed to be funded through the city’s Civic Property Development reserve, which currently sits with a balance of approximately $710,000.

An additional $60,000 was proposed by Councillor Amy McQuaid-England to go toward converting Albert and Celina Streets from one-way to two-way streets. However, the item received no support from her fellow councillors.

“This is a small segment. Staff have advised that they need to consider larger issues,” said Councillor Nancy Diamond.

Councillor Doug Sanders, who sits on the board of the downtown BIA, said that while Oshawa does need to look at converting downtown streets back to two-way, a more in-depth plan needs to be created before the city starts throwing money around.

“We need to come up with a creative concept on that so we can look to it in the future,” he said.

Council also addressed the needs of the harbour lands. While the federal government allowed an extension to late 2018 for converting the land for public use, the city recently learned the work is going to cost more than $2.2 million.

A report from Paul Ralph, Oshawa’s commissioner of development services, delivered on the first day of budget deliberations, noted that the city has just over a million dollars in a collection of reserves, which were all slated for harbour improvements.

However, this means the city needs to come up with the other half of the funds to complete the work in the next two years, and the final dollar figure still hasn’t been set.

“It’s just an estimate at this point in time. Additional money may be needed to meet the minimum requirements,” Ralph said of the $2.2-plus million figure noted in his report.

Council has proposed to issue a $750,000 interfund note, a form of internal debt, to cover a portion of the costs at the harbour. The interest on such a loan, approximately $84,000 a year, is set to be covered by the additional funds created by the city paying off a pair of larger debts in 2015.

Council deliberations continue on Friday, starting at 9:30 a.m.