What happened at last night’s #STCbudget meeting #StCath

A busy night at Budget Committee yesterday, as we got back on track after a missed meeting due to Monday’s snow storm. A few items of note (over and above the article in today’s Standard):

We received presentations from the Operations Commission, which includes Transportation and Environmental Services (TES), as well as Parks, Culture and Recreation Services (PRCS). Together, these two departments make up almost 40% of the City’s budget, and PRCS is also responsible for the new facilities that are being brought online in the Meridian Centre and the Performing Arts Centre (PAC).

I asked the committee last night to send the Directors of both departments back to their departments to find ways to get their overall increases within the rate of inflation, with a few caveats. PRCS was asked to remove the Meridian Centre and PAC lines from their overall rejig of the numbers, and to bring the rest of their budget down to below a 2% increase. This was done for a simple reason – new facilities require appropriate funding, and that funding increase will have to be outside of the 2% growth rate. The Mayor also asked that, as part of that process of cutting the budget increase to a more appropriate level, PRCS look at the buildings that are currently being maintained by the City, and finally find ways to divest itself (that is, sell off) of properties that the City is not using but which cost significant amounts to maintain. This likely spells the end of the West Park pool, in addition to other identified properties. We are also looking at forming a partnership with another entity, like the NPCS, to maintain and potentially own the Morningstar Mills building.

On the TES side of things, the same request was made, and passed by the committee. Staff are to return with a below 2% increase for the department, excluding the line item for trees, which requires more than a 2% increase to deal with the Emerald Ash Borer problem the City is facing. This is due in part because some on Council last year decided to (in my opinion, inappropriately) take money from the Hydro reserves that were being set aside for Shickluna to create a one year artificial bump to pay for increased tree expenditures. As I and a few others at Council pointed out last year, this was an election-year ploy to make the budget increase more palatable. The mess that was created from these decreased revenues is left to us to clean up this year. With that said, TES has been instructed to come back with a 2% increase, and I have full confidence that they will.

As some additional background information – one of the other things the Committee asked of staff, and received yesterday, was information pertaining to the 3 year Actual spending for City departments. This has been incredibly informative, and I am hopeful that City budgets will come to resemble the actual spending that is done in the near future. That more accurate picture also showed that the TES spending has increased almost 16% over the last 3 years, and PRCS has increased almost 20%. While PRCS has grown considerably with the addition of the Meridian Centre, the PAC and the new Kiwanis Aquatic Centre, TES’ increase is harder to understand; hence, the expectation that it brought down under 2%.

As always – any questions, comments, concerns, feel free to email at budget@stcatharines.ca, or tweet using #STCbudget. Our first budget Open House is tonight at 6pm at the Kiwanis Aquatic Centre, and all are welcome. There will also be a post upcoming on the Telephone Townhall that we’ll be using next week to better engage residents.