By Ryan Flanagan
Kitchener Post staff
Water rate and bus fare hikes, cuts to funding for road maintenance and an end to free recycling boxes and landfill visits are all being considered as the Region of Waterloo looks to whittle down a proposed tax increase of 5.14 per cent.
But at the same time, councillors also want to see more ambulances in rural areas and the retention of benefits for people on social assistance.
And they got an earful Wednesday from residents with strong feelings about those and other issues.
“Our concern is not about the assessment or the tax rate, it’s about the bottom line,” said Peter Durksen, a Breslau resident armed with a petition calling on the region to hold spending increases to the rate of inflation and spend less on salaries.
Under the proposed budget, which will likely be modified significantly before it is finalized in January, water rates will go up by 6.9 per cent, wastewater rates by 7.9 per cent and bus fares by seven per cent or more.
Landfill visits, currently free to residents disposing of less than 50 kilograms of waste, will cost $2, while acquiring an additional or replacement recycling box will cost $4.50.
“We would provide the first box free,” said waste management director Jon Arsenault.
“There would be minimal kickback to this because it is so well entrenched in the community.”
Cambridge Coun. Claudette Millar questioned if the charge would apply in the case of stolen boxes.
“When I get my blue box snitched, am I going to have to pay for a new one? It’s happened to me at least four times,” she said.
Allocating more resources to emergency services is not part of the proposed budget, but EMS chief John Prno told councillors adding a new ambulance during peak hours and an overnight rural emergency response unit would improve rural response times by up to two minutes in exchange for a tax increase of $363,000.
Although there were no plans to discuss discretionary benefits for people receiving Ontario Works or ODSP support until December, councillors took issue with a staff recommendation to only maintain $1.15 million of the current $3.7 million provided for the benefits.
“I think those at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale are going to be severely impacted by the cuts we’re proposing here,” said North Dumfries Mayor Rob Deutschmann.
Deutschmann suggested finding money in the region’s 2013 capital budget, which pays for roads and other infrastructure, to make up the shortfall — an idea several councillors disagreed with.
“You’re really creating a hornet’s nest when you defer it by using one-time money,” said Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr.
“You cannot sustain a budget by robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Deutschmann said any reduction in services would be borne by community organizations which face their own challenges.
Opportunities Waterloo Region, a group which brings other community organizations together to develop community plans to address social issues, had asked the region for $110,000 in funding.
A similar request was granted last year, but for 2013, the proposed budget recommends only $59,000, which the group says would not be enough to keep them afloat.
“We do need $110,000, or something near to that, to operate the organization on an annual basis,” said Opportunities board chair Matt Betik.
“At $60,000, we will close.”
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By the numbers
$12.5 million — Proposed increase for Waterloo Regional Police
$12.3 million — Proposed increase for all other regional programs
$2.6 million — Proposed reduction in Ontario Works benefits
$85.53 — Proposed increase to average residential property tax bill
$4.50 — Proposed price of replacement/additional recycling boxes
58 — Proposed number of new employees to be hired