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Council refers budget guidelines back to committee

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

With budget season underway, regional council has elected to refer proposed 2019 property tax guidelines back to staff for the sake of transparency.

After the finance and administration committee approved a two per cent increase to the property tax guidelines, some other councillors felt some apprehension.

Originally, staff had requested the two per cent increase, as well as leeway for an extra .5 to .75 per cent in case of budget cuts from the province.

The hope was this would help to maintain service levels after cuts from the region.

But, the committee determined staff should find a way to handle the budget cuts within the two per cent.

To stay within the guidelines, the committee told Durham Regional Police officials to keep their budget increase to a maximum of 3.2 per cent

Conservation authorities were allowed an operations budget increase of 2.5 per cent, and a special programs budget increase of 1.5 per cent.

But councillors still expressed concern, with Whitby Mayor Don Mitchell noting he was told by commissioner of works Susan Siopis the increase will have a lot of  implications council needs to know about.

“She just strongly urges… [council] refer it back so you can know the implications of what you’re doing here,” said Mitchell.

He also expressed concerns about the transparency of the increase.

“If we bury these provincial implications right now, then we’re somehow going to have to explain why we did that,” he said.

He adds for him it’s about being clear about the budget – and he believes the region isn’t being transparent if they already know they are receiving the cuts, and go ahead with the increase anyway.

Yet Pickering councillor Kevin Ashe, who sits on the finance committee, said he believes the committee was clear.

“I just think the two per cent sets a goal that we can achieve,” he said.

He explains when he was knocking on doors during last year’s municipal election, he felt people in Durham were hurting.

“I think the two per cent [increase]… is a thoughtful discussion that we had at finance committee,” he said.

Yet, Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter felt it was wise to look into it the issue further, and put forth a motion to refer it back to staff, which carried.

It will once again be in front of the region’s finance and administration committee in November.