This is how you build a city budget?!

I admit, I’m a little naive when it comes to budgeting by various levels of government.  But I guess it always struck me that the sane way to create a budget would be to write down all the things that are necessary for a city, figure out how much they cost, and then charge taxpayers accordingly.

“City treasurer Shelley Chemnitz said the draft budget has a list of nearly 40 items that department heads wanted to include but didn’t, in order to reduce the size of the spending hike.”

“Similarly, councillors Dawn Dodge and Jennie Stevens hinted that instead of cutting, they want to add things to the budget, with Dodge asking for a pedestrian activated signal to be installed on Linwell Road in the area of Ina Grafton Gage seniors’ home. That prompted Stevens to ask for the same type of signal to be installed on Hartzel Road in her ward. “

“Fire chief Mark Mehlenbacher said his wish list has $100,000 for rural property identification numbers, but he’s willing to cut a $30,000 computerized system that keeps track of firefighters when they are inside a burning building, making do with the manual tag system the fire department currently uses. “

“Mustard said his wish list includes $375,000 for trimming trees, saying his department can’t keep up with the number of complaints about dangerous foliage.

“The backlog is growing,” he said. “The number of complaints we get in in a week is greater than the number we can clear.

Mustard also said his department hasn’t been spending enough on building maintenance.

“We’ve had to cut back on infrastructure spending and where we’ve done a fair bit of that is building repair,” he said. “That’s where we feel the pressure.”

But Mustard’s department will be spending some extra money on building maintenance this year. Included in the budget list of significant increases over last year is $75,000 to maintain the St. Paul Street properties the city bought as the future location of the performing arts centre, $87,000 to maintain the Old Courthouse, and $63,000 for maintenance of the Folk Arts building on Church Street. “

Judging from this article, however, that’s not the case.  It becomes more a case of creating wishlists, figuring out how to stretch things here and cut things there.  No real rhyme or reason, no (apparent) long-term forethought into what infrastructure or capital needs might be required in the future (can anyone say four-pad arena that can’t be expanded to house the local OHL team).  Real ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ kind of stuff.

Memo to city council – write down the stuff you need, figure out how much it is going to cost, and budget accordingly.  Everyone has a wishlist – heck, I’ve got a wishlist several pages long – but my employer doesn’t just keep handing me more money because I want more stuff.  We’re just clearing a recession, the local economy is still in the pits, and there hasn’t been much in the way of population growth around here in a long time.  Maybe sticking to the basics would be your best bet.

And none of us would be particularly upset if you slowed down on the wage increases – just a head’s up.

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