City council voted Monday, by a 7-6 margin, to instruct city staff to show what would have to be done in terms of city spending to get this year's budget down to a residential tax increase of zero percent, one percent or 1.75 percent.
A brief resolution asking staff to come up with such a report was moved and seconded by Ward 2 councillors Terry Sheehan and Susan Myers.
"I'm just saying let's bring forward a zero and ask can we do it again…I'm looking forward to the report," Sheehan said to council Monday.
"I totally believe staff must do this (prepare this report for council)…zero is ideal," Myers said.
Members of the previous council used $2,150,055 in surplus money to bring the levy down to zero in the 2014 budget.
The preliminary budget figure for 2015 shows a 4.6 percent tax increase, but certain adjustments will be made.
Ward 1 Councillor Steve Butland, however, said "I'm not in favour of this."
"Of course we want to go to zero but I suspect this is going to be time consuming."
"This is our job (council, not staff)…it's up to us to start formulating our thoughts. Are there services that need to be cut? Staff has already spent a lot of time on this process," Butland said.
Butland's wardmate, Councillor Paul Christian, said "in theory I agree with this resolution" but stated he believed he should not interfere with staff's job.
Ward 5 Councillor Frank Fata said "we're the ones that will have to come up with tough decisions."
Council also supported another 2015 pre-budget item included on Monday’s agenda which involves asking council’s Finance Committee to work with senior city staff in developing a priority system for council to use when dealing with supplementary items during its budget deliberations.
Council must review a number of supplementary expenditures every year at budget time, and approval of any of them adds to the levy.
There is currently no system in place for council to use to prioritize supplementary items.
A third budget resolution on the agenda for Monday, concerning city funding for outside agencies, was passed.
In keeping with a resolution passed March 9, council has been provided with a list of outside agencies which receive city funding.
Ward 5 Councillor Frank Fata called for a “discussion” of how much funding each agency receives from taxpayers at council’s March 9 meeting, urging council to keep taxes as low as possible in the 2015 budget.
However, the resolution for Monday’s meeting, moved and seconded by Councillors Myers and Sheehan, states some agencies have agreements in place stipulating any cuts in their funding must be done with advance notice before the start of the budget year.
The resolution also states if any agencies are to have their funding cut in the years ahead, they should be notified of the amount of the cut immediately after a current year’s budget is approved, followed by written notice, with a report provided to council from those agencies outlining what effect those cuts would have on their operations.
Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Shoemaker said the resolution would limit council's ability to trim spending.
Ward 6 Councillor Ross Romano said "taxpayers don't get advance notice (of property tax increases)…our outside agencies have to find a way to make it work."
Outside agencies which will not have their funding cut, and grants that will not be removed because of prior approval, include those to Algoma Public Health, the city’s share of physician recruitment, the Conservation Authority, Humane Society, Red Cross, cultural grants, the Economic Development Corporation, Destiny Sault Ste. Marie, Development Sault Ste. Marie, the Innovation Centre and tourist promotion.
Organizations and grants still without approval include the library board, the Art Gallery of Algoma, Sault Ste. Marie Museum, Bushplane Museum, cultural recognition, Safe Communities, and miscellaneous grants to Algoma University, Pee Wee Arena, “other sports” and a youth grant.
The list provided for council shows no funding for the Norgoma.
Council is expected to approve the final version of the 2015 budget April 20.