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"Ever wonder if City Council is as contentious and chaotic as it is sometimes portrayed? Here you can get a progressive perspective on some of the issues from someone who spent four years in the trenches. Totally unbiased, though! Feel free to comment but keep it respectful, just like they do at council."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Open letter on Budget 2011

Last night, Council brought in a budget that will keep property taxes at the same level as in 2010. I will prepare a fuller report on this in a future blog; for now, I want to address one very small but significant cut.

February 17, 2011

Dear Mayor and Councillors,

Congratulations on realizing your commitment to not increasing taxes for 2011. You are to be commended on making a difficult task as painless as possible. I am also aware that much of the heavy lifting in preparing the budget is done by your excellent administration and I congratulate them as well.

I watched the debate from the gallery and was happy to see that a general spirit of cooperation prevailed, helped in large measure by your coaching, Mayor, and your occasional outbursts of humour. Well done.

It also helped, I believe, that everyone went through this task together rather than second guessing the work done by a Board of Control, as was the case in the past.

Apart from any reservations I may have about the sustainability of the decisions in some areas, I would like to raise one concern about what transpired at the budget meeting last night as Council struggled with finding those last few extra dollars needed to get to zero. That is the issue of cutting the garden program at the London and Middlesex Housing Corporation.

This is a program that benefits our tenants, who are among the most vulnerable residents in the city. It consists of providing bedding plants and seeds and other gardening essentials to voluntary participants in our buildings and housing complexes. It allows the city’s tenants to do what the city has been unable to do because of inadequate federal and provincial funding, namely a little landscaping that puts some colour into bleak surroundings and what are often bleak lives.

The garden program was begun about four years ago. Initially, once the gardens were well established, a panel of “judges” toured the buildings and complexes to identify the winners. I helped with “judging” the first one in 2007. While not all efforts produced stunning results, some of the gardens that emerged were amazing and occasionally nutritious as some chose to plant bountiful vegetable gardens.

I believe the “contest” part of the initiative has been discontinued. Perhaps that is because the real winner was the city as the gardens instilled pride in the accomplishments of the amateur gardeners and brought neighbours together. What better way to build neighbourhoods and strengthen communities.

I hope that the city can find a way to rescue this program, perhaps through Communities in Bloom. It is a small sum of money that can have a big impact on the families and seniors who are the city’s tenants.


Gina Barber


Sandy Levin said...

Gina, there is one thing about taxes that your readers should keep in mind. That is the change in the assessed value of their house. If that goes up, they will have a tax increase. If it goes down, they will have a decrease. The assessment changes are being phased in by the province and are outside the control of Council. The city's total "take" from property taxes doesn't change. It is really better to argue that the size of the city budget plus assessment growth didn't change from last year than to say taxes are frozen.

Why's woman said...

Gina, I want to send a letter that supports a community gardens programme at the LMHC, so I'm doing a bit of research so that it can be most effective. My letter - or anyone's - needs to be informed by information I just got from a conversation with Michelle Lynne Goodfellow, at LMHC. She clarified that LMHC gets 55% of its budget from rent and 45% from City subsidy. Its original budget submission asked for a 12% increase, but LMHC has pared it to 9%. One of the difficult budget choices made was to cut the $8,000 directed to the community gardens. That the cut was a decision of the LMHC makes a difference in the comments that anyone concerned about this cut should make. Doesn't there need to be support for LMHC, and also support for a community gardens programme because of the huge benefits that come from such programmes? I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to proceed, but will take some time to think on this while I'm at work today ... where I'd better go right now! Any strategy suggestions on your part would be appreciated.

Best regards

Gina Barber said...

My understanding is that they were required to offer up a cut and they had little else to offer that wasn't a core service. Would you email me directly at ginabarber@rogers.com and we can discuss this further if you like.