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Compassionate city initiative added to budget

Compassionate city initiative added to budget

Compassionate city initiative added to budget

The mayor’s compassionate city initiative got a jumpstart Monday as council, on the first night of budget deliberations, approved $5,000 for a small pilot project.

Walter Sendzik asked council to restore $5,000 in operating expenses into the office of the mayor, which was down 21 per cent, to support the project that will train city staff to deal with disadvantaged citizens, such as the homeless and people with mental illness.

It’s never been done before in Canada.

“This will be a first of its kind in terms of the compassionate city model,” Sendzik told councillors.

It was approved unanimously.

Council also established a $15,000 Centennial Gardens restoration fund for the next two years at the request of Merritton Coun. David Haywood.

Councillors began deliberations at 6:30 p.m. and went until a deadline of 10:30 p.m. They’ll meet for Part 2 Tuesday.

They were presented with a draft budget that calls for a 5.04 per cent tax increase for the city. That translates to an overall 2.16 per cent increase on a person’s tax bill, including Niagara Region and school board portions.

It means the owner of a $221,000 home in St. Catharines would pay $69.65 more on their tax bill this year.

Standing budget committee chair Mat Siscoe said the city’s increase includes 1.15 per cent more in city department spending, an increase in debt repayment from the previous year’s capital projects, and a hike in library and transit budgets.

It also includes a new one per cent infrastructure levy.

Siscoe said the city has a large infrastructure debt of $140 million and there was a feeling amongst the majority of the budget committee that the city needs to be proactive.

If St. Catharines is going to go to other levels of government to ask for infrastructure money, he said the city needs to show it’s doing its part.

“The future going forward will continue to be difficult,” Siscoe said, but he added this budget allows the city to create reserve funds so it has money when it needs it in the future.

That includes a tax rate stabilization reserve, winter control program reserve and FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre capital reserve.

The night kicked off with a public meeting, in which three people made presentations about their budget concerns.

George Darte, co-owner of George Darte Funeral Chapel, asked for a zero increase in the budget — next year.

“I’ll let this year slide,” he said.

Darte said there is waste at the government level, using the example of a plumbing inspector who showed up at a project on a weekly basis before he was required.

Darte said council is probably too far into the budget process this year to get to zero, which is why he asked for it to be a target next year.

Merritton Coun. Jennie Stevens said the city came in with a zero increase in 1982 and it’s trickled down with infrastructure problems.

Mayor Sendzik pointed out the region got to zero by going into its reserves, which the city doesn’t have.

Councillors will make more amendments to the budget and are expected to pass it Tuesday.

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