Last night, HRM regional council voted to approve the municipality’s 2012-2013 budget. I’ll be putting together a more comprehensive post about the budget next week after I’ve had a chance to go through the whole approved budget, but for now let’s look at how the vote went.
The budget discussion occurred over the course of two days: Monday, April 2nd and Tuesday, April 3rd.
Votes to approve
Seventeen of the 23 councillors, plus the mayor, voted to approve the budget. Therefore, it’ll be easier to list those who didn’t vote to approve the budget.
Votes against approving
Two councillors voted not to approve the budget: Halifax North End councillor Jerry Blumenthal and Bedford councillor Tim Outhit.
Coun. Blumenthal voted against the budget because he wanted to save a a bus route that is going to be eliminated due to very low ridership numbers (Route 3, or The Manors). I think this is silly. If you want to fight this battle, fight this battle as an individual item. In my opinion, it doesn’t make sense to vote against an entire municipality operating budget because of a bus route that about a hundred residents currently use. If this happened to be a close vote and Coun. Blumenthal’s made it fail, it would seem a silly thing to sink a budget on, indeed.
Coun. Outhit voted against the budget because despite modest decreases in commercial and property tax rates, some residents and businesses are still facing huge tax spikes due to spikes in property assessments. This is his reaction from his Facebook page:
Bedford residents – below is the official news release regarding Council’s approval of the 2012 – 13 HRM Budget. Although this budget approved a commercial and residential tax rate decrease that will benefit many residential and commercial taxpayers, there are also many residents (up to 30%) and small businesses (up to 40%) that will see significant tax increases based on their sky-rocketing property assessment. The budget, though the best one that I have seen during my 4 years as your representative, still included a $30m increase in spending. For these reasons, and my previous comments on the need for tax reform to protect those not covered by the assessment cap, condo owners, apartment dwellers, and small business owners, I did not support the budget. My objective was to ease the tax burden increase to small businesses owners and those not covered by the cap, through a tiered commercial tax rate and / or additional spending and rate cuts. A good budget that included many cuts, but still not good enough imo. Of additional concern to me is that fact that these sky-rocketing assessments increases took place prior to the announcement of the shipbuilding contract, so this could just be the beginning!
And some further comments from him from the comments:
Residential assessments were capped at 3.9 % for those eligible for the cap and the rate dropped more than enough to compensate. The challenge is for those uncapped. The commercial average assessment increase was 5.5%, and the rate dropped to compensate. The challenge is the 40% who will see an increase of 8 – 200% increase on the commercial tax.
Again, I haven’t had the chance to dig into these issues, but generally, the taxation scheme is a more reasonable thing to oppose a budget for.
Four councillors were absent for the budget vote: Eastern Shore-Musquodoboit Valley councillor Steve Streatch, Middle and Upper Sackville-Lucasville councillor Brad Johns, Halifax Downtown councillor Dawn Sloane, and Timberlea-Prospect councillor Reg Rankin.
Missing budget talks is a big deal, and missing the budget vote is a very big deal. The budget is the single most important piece of policy that a council (like a board of directors) must consider, and it should only be for extenuating circumstances that a councillor misses the budget vote or the budget discussions.
I don’t know why Couns. Streatch, Johns or Rankin were absent (although Streatch may well have been for health reasons). I hope it was for a good reason (though I somehow doubt all three were absent for a good reason). Coun. Sloane was at the Crosstown Connector public meeting, attending as a resident. She was tweeting up a storm from there. The Crosstown Connector meetings are important, but not important enough for a councillor to miss budget talks and the vote for. This was a disappointing choice for Coun. Sloane to make.
Therefore, the final tally for the vote was 18 (17 Councillors plus the mayor) for, two against, and four absent.
A pretty landslide approval.
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