Peterborough Transit will be spared from service cuts after public outcry, with hundreds of people attending budget committee meetings last week, convinced city council Monday night to reverse an earlier decision.
Council recommended during budget committee meetings last month cutting $303,000 from the $9.8-million public transit budget, which would have resulted in reduced operating hours.
Council put the $303,000 into the city's 2011 budget before it gave final approval to the financial plan Monday night.
Public transit is an essential service, said Coun. Len Vass, the city's transportation chairman.
"This has been a wonderful process, although it has been laborious and stressful for some individuals," he said. "There was an outcry and the voices of the community were heard."
Putting the $303,000 back in the budget helped increase the all-inclusive tax increase for a typical homeowner to 1.8% from the 1.335% that council started with at the beginning of the meeting.
Vass put forward the motion to maintain the current service levels. He recommended that council maintain the property tax savings by reducing the city's $1.6-million contingency fund by $303,000, but council rejected that proposal and decided to increase property taxes.
The public transit budget is increasing by $2,665 or 0.1% compared to last year.
Mayor Daryl Bennett declared a pecuniary interest and removed himself from the entire city budget debate Monday night after he rejected suggestions earlier this month that he may have a conflict of interest over the proposed public transit service cuts.
"I have a financial interest in a firm and that interest may create a perceived benefit in relation to matters under discussion," he said.
Bennett is a part owner of Liftlock Group, which includes Capitol Taxi. He didn't declare a conflict of interest during the budget committee meetings earlier this month when the transit service cuts were discussed.
Council initially wanted to reduce public transit service as a way to save money to drive down the tax increase that was driven by other programs and services, such as the about $1.1-million increase to city police budget.
Council and staff were trying to get the tax rate down without exploring all the options, Coun. Dean Pappas said as he tried to explain why council was prepared to reduce transit service.
"People were mobilized and they participated in democracy and they lit a fire under us.... I think that's fantastic," he said. "It restores the service and that's the message that was clearly heard by all of us over the past two weeks."
Coun. Bob Hall led the discussion over not pulling $303,000 from the contingency fund to help reduce the property tax increase.
Hall told council he was "uneasy" with the prospect of reducing the contingency fund by $303,000 then expecting staff to find savings throughout the city's budget during the year to make up for that reduction.
"Where are we going to find $303,000? And that's our job at budget time to set the priorities," he said. "This is a huge cut.... Sure, it's in contingency, but it's there for a purpose."
In addition to maintaining current service levels, council decided that the city will review transit service operations this year.
One stakeholder that needs to be considered is the guy who doesn't use the bus but is on the hook for more than $4 million to support public transit, Coun. Bill Juby said, referring to the $4.25 million in property taxes that will be used to help pay for the $9.8-million transit service this year.
"I guess I can hold my nose and support this," Juby said of the proposal to maintain current service levels.
Vass stressed that the service review is about finding a more cost effective way of operating public transit.
"It's not about slashing and burning, it's about finding efficiencies," he said. "This is an important service that we must maintain."
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