Monday night at City Hall myself, Mayor Sendzik, Deputy Mayor Phillips, Councillors Harris, Britton and Haywood, along with members of city staff began the process of crafting the 2015 City Budget.
Let me start by saying that I’m honoured my colleagues appointed me as the Budget Chair for this year. I am looking forward to a big challenge in this budget cycle; with two major projects coming online in the Performing Arts Centre and the Meridian Centre, there are budgetary obstacles that we need to deal with head-on. I believe that we can do this, while ensuring we don’t overburden taxpayers; a balance must be struck between these two competing interests, and I believe our group will be able to strike that balance.
With respect to last night’s meeting, a great deal of work was done, although not related specifically to the expenditure budget. We as a committee did approve and forward to Council the Rates and Fees for 2015, a book outlining the costs associated with some of the services offered by the City. This will go to a public meeting for comment on the 9th of February. While not a lot of changes were made, the committee did ask for a number of items to be reported back on regarding the rates and fees structure, including comparisons to other municipalities, and ideas for who to better utilize under-utilized city facilities through incentivized pricing. Not a lot of movement will be made on this issue this year, but this is part of the process of ‘setting the table’ for future year’s budget discussions. The impetus for these reports is to find ways to ensure the City is maximizing the use of city assets as revenue generators, while ensuring that the demands placed on those paying the fees is not too burdensome.
Also on the agenda last night was the process of public outreach we will be undertaking. In the past, our attempts at public outreach have been what I would describe as ‘standard issue’; hold several public meetings make a presentation, and ask residents to provide feedback on sheets of paper, to be duly noted by the committee and Council. While this is the way we’ve always done it, the results of a process like this have been generally dismal; only a fraction of the community is engaged in the process, and when a contentious issue comes up, the public comment portion of the committee’s work can be skewed in one direction or another by a well organized group.
We will still be organizing 2 public meetings during the budget process, but we will also be trying something new this time around – a telephone tele-forum, where several thousand residents are called, at random, to participate in the ‘town hall’. Residents can ask questions of the budget committee, provide feedback via polls during the town hall, listen to the questions and answers of others, and leaves further feedback from the comfort of their home. My goal, as chair, and the goal of the committee, is to try and reach as many people in the community as possible, and to make the process as open, transparent and accessible as it has ever been in St. Catharines. As more details are finalized, I look forward to sharing this information with residents through the media and through this blog, as well as social media.
I will also ensure that relevant documents are linked to here through various posts, and if you have any questions, comments or concerns, please don’t hesitate to email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to tweet using the hashtag #STCbudget to also share your feelings.
In terms of upcoming dates of interest – the Draft Expenditure budget (the overview of how departments will spend their money, located here) will be tabled at the Council meeting on Monday night, and the next meeting of the budget committee will be on Monday, February 2nd in the third floor Burgoyne Room at City Hall. The full preliminary meeting schedule is here.
Links: Ad-hoc Budget Committee info