An eventful budget meeting on Monday, with the committee receiving information regarding winter control programs, the asset management plan and the budget night process.
With respect to Winter Control, the committee voted unanimously to maintain the level of service in the downtown with respect to sidewalk snow shovelling; staff had put forward a plan at the request of some Councillors and residents about shovelling all sidewalks in the downtown, which is not currently done. Store owners and residents are currently expected to meet the same shovelling requirements as businesses and residents in the rest of the City. The committee felt that maintaining this practice was prudent, as the addition of streets not currently dealt with by the City would be upwards of $160,000 (obviously dependent on the severity of the winter we get). As it currently stands, the procedures around snow-clearing currently used would ensure that the new City facilities would be clear of snow already, without any additional cost.
The report regarding the Asset Management Plan was illuminating, specifically for Councillors who were not a part of the creation of the plan two years ago. As I pointed out last year, there are significant infrastructure challenges that the City will need to meet in the upcoming years, and maintaining as low a tax rate as possible is a requirement of this Council as we find a way to deal with these (expensive) issues.
Indeed, as part of the Strategic Planning process earlier this year, there was near-unanimity from Councillors that the tax rate needs to be brought down to at or below the rate of inflation. The challenges Council will face with respect to roads, water and sewers, recreation facilities and trees are large and they’re not improving. It was reported last night that Council has not increased its contribution to maintaining road infrastructure over the last 5 years, and in fact, as a percentage of sustainable funding levels it has actually decreased its contribution. This can’t be allowed to continue, and the Committee will be tasked with finding savings in non-priority areas at City Hall to make sure the core services of the City are properly maintained.
As an addendum to the infrastructure conversation, staff will be bringing forward a report regarding Infrastructure Levies, which are being imposed in other communities to try and deal with the problems all municipalities are currently facing. For an example of a municipality that is looking at an infrastructure levy, check out this article regarding Windsor’s current debate on exactly this topic. Windsor is often held up as a model community in terms of wise municipal spending, so it’s interesting to see what solutions they are seeking to their own infrastructure woes.
Finally – the committee is looking at ways to change the actual Budget Night process, to make things more streamlined and avoid the decision-making at 1:30AM problem we encountered last year. My hope is that Councillors will bring amendments to the table earlier in the process so that staff can detail for Council exactly how much their additions or deletions to the budget will cost/save the City. This has been an issue in the past several years, with some Councillors claiming massive savings that simply did not exist from their proposed changes.
As always – if residents have any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, email the budget committee at email@example.com, or tweet using the hashtag #STCbudget to get your opinion across.
And a reminder that the next budget meeting will be Wednesday November 25th in the afternoon, 3:30 at City Hall. The agenda for tomorrow night’s meeting can be found here.