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Demonstrators rally at Region of Waterloo public input budget meeting

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As councillors worked to determine the Region of Waterloo’s 2024 budget, demonstrators gathered outside and inside regional headquarters to weigh in on how they want to see taxpayer dollars spent.

Around 10 people took part in a rally Wednesday ahead of the final public input budget meeting at 6 p.m.

Organized by a number of groups including Ground Up Waterloo Region and The Unsheltered Campaign, funding for police services and the region’s plan to end chronic homelessness were among their top concerns.

Acer Bonaparte with Ground Up Waterloo believes some of the more than $200 million allocated to police annually could be better spent elsewhere.

“They [police] do have a rainy day fund. They do have the ability to operate on the budget they have, which is clearly evident with them running a surplus and instead put that money towards organizations like One Roof, which helps at-risk youth, like the John Howard Society, and the social development centre and the House of Friendship, which helps people who are experiencing mental health troubles,” said Bonaparte.

MARATHON MEETING FOR REGION

More than 30 people signed up to speak on a variety of issues at the Wednesday meeting.

Topics discussed ranged from affodability, to homelessness, to housing, to public transit, to funding for the humane society and the now-defunct K-W Symphony.

"You and the municipalities and cities you represent are in a unique position to restore our orchestra to its former prominence," a delegate said.

The region is proposing a $1.5 billion operating budget for next year, up from $1.4 billion last year. 

"One of the numbers that keeps coming back over and over to us is that our region currently is estimating that we pay approximately $170 million from our property tax system that goes into things, particularly housing and homelessness, that are things that really should be paid for by the provincial government," said Waterloo Mayor Dorothy McCabe.

The budget includes a plan to end chronic homelessness.

"Something that outreach workers are very concerned about this year is that we are dealing with an unsheltered population that is less experienced than ever before when it comes to surviving winter," another delegate said.

The budget and next year’s property tax increase are expected to be finalized on Dec. 13.

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