In the week that was in Canadian Cities, Toronto Mayor David Miller assured City taxpayers that the current recession won't mean he'll have to dip into their pockets any further this year. Miller commits that Toronto can live within its means and will stick to the 4% residential tax increases proposed in the 2009 budget.
The reason Torontonians might be a bit nervous about Miller's commitment stems from the fact that in the early 90's, after the budget had been approved, Council came back and imposed a 15% property tax increase to cover increasing costs. In Toronto, they are responsible to fund programs such as welfare which are normally negatively impacted by a recession.
In an interview with the Toronto Sun editorial board, Miller said:
"My goal in this budget, and at this time, is to preserve services -- high quality public services matter," noting the budget also seeks "to make strategic investments where we can, particularly with respect to public transit and transportation."
The current Toronto budget proposes to add 1,000 new city staff and increase spending by half a billion dollars.
Across the pond in Montreal, Mayor Gerard Tremblay was sounding upbeat about his local economy despite unemployment numbers released this week which show massive job losses throughout Canada. A total of 16,000 people lost their jobs in the City of Montreal last month alone.
Tremblay told CJAD radio:
"We're always concerned (about) the economic crisis...What we have to do is continue to accelerate our investments in different projects, economic projects, cultural projects, social projects, our infrastructures, hoping the private sector will follow."
In Edmonton, the economy may remain a top priority, but so was getting rid of unnecessary stop lights, sidewalks and the like. The Edmonton Journal reports the City is looking at how some other jurisdictions have actually eliminated crosswalk lights and sidewalks as a means of increasing pedestrian safety.
Edmonton played host to a three-day international traffic safety conference this week. The goal of the conference was to share information and ideas on how to improve traffic and pedestrian safety.
In London, England they tried something really radical in one neighbourhood. They actually removed traffic lights, street signs and crosswalks in order to force pedestrians and drivers to be more aware of each other. It's apparently been a real success. If you've ever been to Vancouver's Granville Island, you can kind of see how it might work in the Canadian context.
According to Gerry Shimko, head of Edmonton's Office of Traffic Safety:
"There, you know you have to look because there are no lights and your life is at stake. There's nobody to blame but yourself if you enter the intersection when someone else is coming."
Not everyone agrees the light free concept is a good one for Edmonton. City Councillor Kim Krushell, a former supporter of this type of innovative traffic safety initiative says she's now opposed:
"Our citizens are used to traffic crosswalks of some kind. You would have to retrain your citizenry."
In Burnaby, Mayor Derek Corrigan is steamed the Province of BC may limit his ability to tax residents and businesses as he sees fit.
His concern stems from a two line sentence included in the recent speech from the throne:
"More needs to be done to ensure that provincial tax relief is not negated by local property tax hikes. (The) government will work with the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) to develop new legislation over the summer, for introduction early next year, that will protect provincial tax reductions" and "All levels of government must be equally disciplined to ensure that tax reductions at one level of government are not negated by tax increases at another."
Corrigan believes that senior levels of government should have no say in how much he and his Council want to tax the residents and businesses of Burnaby. Council supported a motion which strongly opposes any move by the Province to limit how much tax he can impose in future years.
The Mayor believe having UBCM work with the Province on a scheme to limit future tax increases is like "being asked to cut our own throats."
Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel was warning council this week that it has to "re-think how it spends money" after the City experienced a $23 million deficit last year.
Mandel told CHED radio:
"We need to do a better job in how we manage our finances in the city. Our big challenge right now is, the city of Edmonton has historically have relied on our investment income as a way of balancing our budgets."
"When you face a market like this today it makes it very difficult, so when 2009 is a problem, but we're going to have to make some huge adjustments in 2010 because of a change in income."
The City's Chief Financial Officer is expected to update Council on March 18th regarding how grim the property tax situation might be in the provincial capital.
A little further south, Calgarians were all stressed about the issued of gang warfare. According to a new poll just released, 55% of the citizenry were extremely concerned about illegal gang activity. The survey was conducted by the Calgary Police Commission.
The issue of not reporting crime was also an issue. According to the survey, 30% of people who were impacted by a crime didn't report it.
The Calgary Chief of Police then went on to say that all the stats about falling crime rates are not as accurate as one might believe.
“I’m not convinced crime is down — we think that less people are reporting crime,”
I might be a tad cynical, but I would bet the most recent survey of unreported crime will likely be used by the department when they go back to Council to ask for more resources.
And that folks was the week that was in Canadian cities. Tune back here next Sunday for another roundup.