February is a busy month in our city, even with the colder winter weather. This month we’ll celebrate both Black History Month and Hamilton Winterfest and, for the first time, February will also mark the end of the City’s annual budget process.

This is the first year that the City is aiming to finish budget deliberations before the end of March, fingers crossed, after the Mayor issued a directive to City staff in August of last year to accelerate the budget timeline and find efficiencies in the overall process.

The original budget forecast, suggested to be a possible increase of 14.2%, has been whittled down to 7.9% in response to the Mayor’s directive. Of that, 1% is earmarked for a municipal contribution to hospital renovations and 2.6% is related to direct costs downloaded to the City by the Province of Ontario. Combined, this makes up 3.6% of our budget increase being pushed onto us by the Province, adding to the pressures that already exist at the municipal level.

That leaves a remaining 4.3% increase that is being proposed by the municipality, about 1.5% less than last year’s increase of 5.8%.

I think this context is important to share as the Province continues to withhold surpluses from municipalities while simultaneously giving them more responsibilities and, therefore, expenses.

Housing is a good example of this. In 2023, the City spent more on housing and homelessness than both the Provincial and Federal governments combined. Both senior governments have demonstrated they’re not taking our housing crisis seriously enough and are not yet prepared to step up to do their fair share. I’m hopeful that the Mayor’s efforts to work with other levels of governments will bear fruit in the coming years. The path forward is not sustainable for anyone.

On that note, this is a very difficult time for those in our community who have been deprived of housing. If you see someone suffering this winter, and are able to offer help, please do. If you want to reach the City over concerns for the welfare of unhoused individuals in our community, please email unsheltered@hamilton.ca. The City has consolidated its communication channels into this one email address to help expedite its service delivery in this area.

In other news, and as some of you may have seen on social media, I’ve recently been on an extensive tour of Eastwood Arena. I know that the arena has been the subject of much discussion in the North End, including public meetings, surveys, and feedback for many years. I’ve had a chance to review the work done on this and have met with City staff to start conversations about what to do going forward.

Now that the arena is no longer being used for ice hockey, and the chiller has been shut down for a number of years, there’s an opportunity to begin the process of moving things forward. The building is in need of some repair and is currently being used 7 days a week for programming related to roller derby, floor hockey, and lacrosse, so the City will have to be thoughtful about next steps to ensure that those programs can continue to thrive.

Expect opportunities to weigh in on the future use of the arena this year, both online and in person. I’ve committed to moving things forward in this term of Council, and that includes making important decisions about our recreation assets. The decisions won’t be easy but I’m confident that we can get there, together.

In the meantime, the Ward 2 Team is here to support you. Please reach out to us at Ward2@hamilton.ca or through our office phone number at (905) 546-2197. If you’d like to reach me directly, send me an email at Cameron.Kroetsch@hamilton.ca.