The Reality of Budgets

The reality of the time is that government funds are tight.  Both federal and provincial governments are in the process of decreasing deficits, and our municipal government in London is chasing a campaign promise of a 0% tax increases.  Although much of this is done with the rhetoric of eliminating waste, or slimming the supposedly fat coffers of the bureaucracy, cuts do not go on for very long, or go very deep, until they are felt locally.  Martin Hayward, the City Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer recently released his recommendations for the draft 2013 London Budget.  This point stood out to me:

To translate, our Social and Community Support Services budget will save 8.9% due to changes to Ontario Works, but we are actually projecting to cut 12.4%, which equates to a true reduction of $1,100,000.  With the budget of this division primarily going towards the delivery of social assistance, one wonders what a one million dollar cut will mean?  And, like the cut to the affordable housing reserve fund (since reversed), will we go for 0% on the backs of the poorest in our community?

Reading through the full budget proposal tells the more important story of the foolishness of 0% tax increases, with the anticipated cut to Social and Community Support Services being one small symptom of a broader disease.  Mr. Hayward lays out very clearly in the proposal that even a 3.8% recommended increase will not come without cuts to municipal services.  It is clear when looking item-by-item, that holding departments at 0% will be tough enough, and increases are only a fraction of the delayed costs created by our first two years of 0%.

You don’t have to read very deep between the lines that a prolonged tax freeze is simply an exercise in kicking the can down the road, and that we would be best to pay a bit more now, than a whole lot later.

 

Ann Arbor Presentation

I had an opportunity to present this past weekend with Alexis Chadwick from Youth Opportunities Unlimited about the work of the London Homelessness Outreach Network.  The focus was on collaboration in the community, particularly bridging academia and community organizations.  We presented some of the past, current, and future projects, and overall were very well received.

You can read the presentation HERE

Breaking the Cycle

Last week at the Grit Uplifted issue #2 launch, a number of the writers took time to read their work.  I was struck by the story of Serenity, who spoke to being born homeless, before she had any idea of the sense of that word.  She said she didn’t fully understand until she, as a teenager, bore a child into homelessness herself.  I was very impacted by the cyclical nature of her story, that sense of not understanding one’s own past, until one replicated it.  Serenity’s story was particularly powerful in that she has found strength and has been able to move herself to a much better place, escaping homelessness, and finding hope.

After the readings I interviewed her briefly, apologies for the poor quality from my Blackberry voice recorder:

Interview With Serenity

Congratulations, Citizens!

Last weekend I had a radio interview about social media and municipal politics.  I noted that social media was important in helping citizens stay informed municipally, as well as creating a venue for people to collaborate on engagement.  Particularly, I talked about the affordable housing reserve fund, and the fact that in a few short weeks we created the largest response to an issue that councilors serving a second term had ever seen.  However, I noted that in spite of the increased engagement, we had yet to have any influence on policy, to actually effect a vote.

This all changed on Tuesday night when Council voted to use $1M from the $4.6M surplus to boost the Affordable Housing Reserve Fund contribution back up to $2M.  In the same meeting they approved that the 2013 contribution be set at $2M.  This motion was actually introduced by Councillor Henderson, who had originally voted to cut out the money, but stated that this was all that the citizens in his ward had been talking about since the budget.  This means that we have been heard, and because of this, $1M is going back into providing places to live for the most vulnerable in our community.

I would suggest that any charitable giving that you do this year will pale in comparison to what you have achieved with this $1,000,000.  What do we get for one million?  In the City’s current RFP they are providing $55,000 per unit, which means that we have created 18 new homes for 18 individuals or families per year.  When else will you have the opportunity to end homeless for 18 individuals or families each year?  This is an amazing achievement, and I congratulate you all on this!

Due Process Required

Many citizens of London rely on the hard work and dedication of local bloggers and journalists to keep apprised with the goings-on at City Hall.  People like Phil McLeod, Sean Meyer, and Gina Barber (pictured at left) put in the hours of attending committee and council meetings, and then summarize key points.  Although we may read the agendas, the minutes come out quite late, and don’t capture well the discussion.

In this post by Gina, she discusses the planning decisions around the property at Southdale and Whiteoaks roads, and how a request to change from ‘Auto Oriented Commercial Corridor’, to ‘Neighbourhood Commercial Node’ actually became a request to change to either/or.  Most notable in her post is the comment by Mayor Fontana that although this might not be due process, “the average person can’t understand what we’re talking about” so there is no need to worry.

In my mind, and to the minds of others, this is not good enough.  Therefore, we have submitted the following to Council:

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April 4, 2012

Jerry Bunn, City Clerk’s Office

cc/ Cathy Saunders, John Fleming

To City Council,

This letter is in regards to item 23 of the March 26th Planning and Environment Committee meeting, the application regarding properties located at Southdale and Whiteoaks roads.

We appreciate that 20 days notice was provided in regards to the amendment to the official plan from ‘Auto Oriented Commercial Corridor’, to ‘Neighbourhood Commercial Node’.  However, what has actually been proposed by the committee for the amendment is not consistent with what was circulated.  Therefore, a vote to approve this amendment at the April 10th City Council meeting would not represent due notice to the public.

As per the requirements of the Planning Act s. 17(15), we request that proper notice be given on the revised amendment prior to a vote on the matter.

Thank you,

Abe Oudshoorn, Michael McAlpine, Brian Gibson, Nick Soave, Sandy Levin, Kevin Labonte, Sean Quigley