I think I am overdue to provide a blog on the the upcoming municipal budget. Budgets are always tough, because they are so big and putting it into a blog can sometimes be impossible.
Our budget process is different from a private company. Council decides how much money we need to deliver a certain service level and then collect that amount accordingly. We use assessment (the value of your property) and times it by the mill rate (an arbitrary number we use to determine the cost per dollar of assessment), and then collect that final number from residents.
If you are confused about what was just stated I will put it this way, Council is doing a fantastic job because the mill rate is actually lower than when I started on council 7 years ago. Very few municipalities can state that. With that being said, what we should be focused on is the day to day operations of the town.
Council has always felt the pressure about tax increases. Nobody wants one; most think we waste money and everybody has an opinion how council can do it better. To compound that ongoing issue, we know the economy is tough right now.
Council and Administration haves tried hard to keep costs in line. We are feeling the pressure more than ever this year. To kick things off this year, council had the goal of delivering the same level of service this year as we did last year and for the same price. (i.e. People pay the same in taxes as they did last year.) This would have been easy, but costs to hold events, run programs, and operate our machinery never stay flat.
Tag on a surprise $125,000 price tag for the carbon tax, we started this year’s budget talks with almost an $800,000 deficit. And considering that a 1 per cent tax increase to all households would only net the town an additional $79,000, We had some tough choices to make.
Now one of the great things about being on council is we get lots of advice about how to spend money. I hear a lot lately is that we should be cutting staff, and potentially rolling back wages. Lots of private companies have had to suffer through this economic downturn, and we should be doing the same. While that may be one option the truth of the matter is that industries have decreased their production of goods in reaction to consumers buying less or world commodity/resources prices significantly declining making it not worthwhile to produce certain goods.
Oil leases are being canceled, production is down and less capital is coming on line if any. By comparison and in contrast to private industry, our production has not decreased. We still have the same amount or roads to look after (actually a little bit more), our facilities are opened the same amount of hours, residents actually have more needs and not less when things are tight, and our Community Services Department is busier than ever. That coupled with new innovative things we are working on like economic development and tourism and I can tell you our plate isn’t any smaller than it used to be.
Now we could consider wages, and trust me we have had discussions about this, but we don’t roll them up when times are good, so is it fair to roll them back when times are bad. So the big question is where are we at? So far we have put about 60 hours into budget and at this point have found about $500,000 in cost saving measures.
We are about half way done the budget process at this point, but with close to 50 hours in front of us, there is still more to do. Our goal remains the same and I believe that target is achievable. That being said there is still a lot that can happen between now and when we are finished. We will do our best to keep you informed and always make what we believe are the best decisions for this community.