BLAKE WOLFE The Standard
NORTH DURHAM: Residents across Durham can expect to pay an additional $54 on the Regional portion of their 2013 tax bill, after councillors approved a 2.35 per cent tax hike last week.
Durham's mayors and Regional councillors approved the Region's 2013 budget last Wednesday (Feb. 13), during a lengthy discussion of the document at that day's council meeting. The increase in taxes is the same hike passed in 2012.
Among this year's new budget items:
- $55 million dedicated to the expansion and improvement of the Region's road and bridge networks;
- Funding for several new solid waste management initiatives, including the implementation of #3 to #7 plastics recycling;
- Operational requirements for the launch of the new Durham Region Transit Pulse service, which will provide rapid transit options on Hwy. 2 through Pickering, Ajax, Whitby and Oshawa.
However, the discussion was not without a few sticking points, namely the budget put forth by Durham Region Police as well as transit funding, specifically a 50 per cent cost increase for Durham Region Transit passes for students.
Several councillors criticized the police for submitting a $172 million budget that includes high-profile capital items, such as the new Clarington police complex, a building that will house such functions as a new Centre of Investigative Excellence, new facilities for the DRPS' K9 and Tactical units and new warehouse storage. The budget includes a $5.5 million charge for architectural design of the new facility. This year's police budget also does not include any money for new officers. According to Commissioner of Finance Jim Clapp, the new building means there will be approximately $20 million worth of debt for the DRPS in 2014.
Uxbridge Mayor Gerri Lynn O'Connor later made a motion requesting a report from police justifying the per-square-foot cost of $350 that will be spent on the building's warehouse. That motion was passed following the vote on the budget.
Councillors also discussed a proposed increase to DRT's student pass, increasing from approximately $49 to $74 this fall. The increase drew criticism from Durham Catholic District School Board representatives trustee Chris Lahey and Ryan Putnam, superintendent of business and chief financial officer, who appeared before councillors that morning to decry the increase. Although students within the Durham District School Board pay for their transit passes, Durham's Catholic students see their transit costs covered by the board, which also receives some provincial funding to cover transit costs. Mr. Lahey and Mr. Putnam said that the jump in price will impact the board's budget directly, by forcing trustees to choose between continuing their relationship with DRT or cutting classroom materials.
The price increase was later passed by council.
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