David Daniels, one of our sources, has some brief musings about the recent budget meeting. We pass on Mr. Daniel’s thoughts and then add our own comments on what was said at that same meeting, based on our other sources. This was not a public input meeting and consisted only of a CAO presentation and Council discussion of that presentation.
The following are observations and comments on budget meeting held in March .
This was a budget prepared by staff with the direction from Council at Feb 10th meeting, (the Mayor and Councilor Zimmerman were absent) that there be no increase in taxes to residents.
This draft budget was not provided to the public. Why, remains, unclear. Perhaps the Council doesn’t trust the intelligence of the public to understand what the word “DRAFT” means.
There was a power point presentation by Mr. Brideau, the CAO, which highlighted expenditures in the draft budget. I did not take notes, so any details provided below are subject to correction.
Councilor Zimmerman commented that what is needed in devising the budget, and apparently not present, was a vision for the town, what the town wishes to look like in twenty years. Only with those in mind, could the correct decisions be made as to what should and should not be funded. This is a worthwhile suggestion.
The Town, however, just spend a lot of money and time preparing a document which should have contained such a vision – the MPS.
In the alternative, the Council, BEFORE, the budget process began could have prepared a four year Council Goals and Objectives. This was done by the previous Council for its 2004-2008 term.
Councilor Irving suggested that this was a time a review staff requirements; to see if any efficiencies could be worked on; and perhaps contract out particular tasks.
Councilor Zimmerman made mention of the bad results such contracting out for Acadia University. The Mayor said this had been tried before without success.
Perhaps further discussion on this issue might be in order. I believe the police protection for the Town is contracted out; and there was a time when the Town contracted with an outside planner when one was thought to be needed.
I know little about Acadia University, but I believe at least some, if not all, of the food services are provided by outside vendors.
Councilor Laceby made the point that satisfied and productive workers depended not only on or in particular their salaries but other factors.
Their were a number of items left out of the draft budget, such as $50,000.00 for a transportation plan. Why certain items were left off, or not partially funded, was not explained.
It was clear from this draft budget that if taxes are not raised then not all activities and outside groups seeking funding could be fully or even partially funded. Why $38,000.00 for flowers, and not fully fund the Visitor Office?
There are many difficult choices to be made concerning funding if taxes are not to be increased.
I would suggest that the Council needs to set priorities; it needs to come to some sort of decision on where the Town should be headed; what kind of Town do the residents wish to and can afford to live in. Only then can it make some reasoned choices about the budgetary items and make some determination about the revenues it needs and should seek from the residents.
Finally, the public should be kept fully informed as to what is going on in the budgetary process and be given adequate opportunity to provide its input at various stages in the budgetary process.
David A. Daniels
April 5, 2009
To add to what David has outlined, we add that Councillor Irving made three extremely important points. 1) This years budget should not be based on last years budget but on actuals and 2) Staffing expenses have to be on the table 3) the CAO’s presentation did not seem to address realistically the revenue side – residents will not be willing to ante up as willingly as in the past and deed transfer tax loot income will be much lower this year. [We remind folks that Wolfville did not NEED to apply this tax, nor choose the level of 1.5% We are paying for this dependence now since there are 127 houses on the market and only 1 has sold so far since Jan.]
Laceby, Oldham and Simpson all made the point that the commercial sector needed some attention and perhaps relief or at least THE SAME FREEZE AS RESIDENTIAL. We remind everyone that the Business Occupancy tax that was removed by the Province, phased out with the intent of giving relief to small business, did NOT NEED TO BE REPLACED BY AN EQUIVALENT TAX REGIME BY THE MUNICIPALITY. Not all towns replaced this burden fully; Wolfville did.
Simpson also kept asking about the Staff Conference, training and travel budget and why that wasn’t on the cutting floor. Now, we understand there was some “line” in the supposed (is it real, is it legal?) CAO contract allowing expenses for Conferences so perhaps this is off the table? A question to ask we should think. If so, it is another reason to examine and renegotiate the CAO (is it real, is it legal?) contract.
In his presentation Brideau pointedly dropped expenses for programs dear to the heart of several on Council… Council travel and conference expenses (dear to Mayor Stead), the Community Health proposal (dear to Mangle and many in the community), Communities in bloom (dear to Stead and the Greens in the community), Transportation (dear to Councillor Zimmerman) and the Kings CED ( dear to Councillor Simpson ). You can tell us this wasn’t a deliberate strategy but we won’t believe you because Brideau hasn’t mastered a poker face; his triumphant expression was noticed by one observer in the gallery when Councillor Simpson said he would be asking for putting the CED increases back in. We know there are other things in the budget that could be cut. Like what was that $80,000 for engineering and planning that the CAO skipped over so quickly, huh?
Council should be in charge of what gets dropped from the menu so yes, priorities and affordabilty are important. Seems to us if the CAO had lived through some hard times he might have an idea of how to be frugal. Time he learned.
Later: Just read the other W’s report on the budget dated Apr. 4
The Wolfville budget for 2009 will likely not be firmed up until June, according to CAO Roy Brideau.
There is a budget meeting April 13 for council members followed by a fiscal sustainability meeting April 27.
“It’s a tremendous amount of work and part of that is educating three new councilors,” Brideau said last week. “What you see are competing values and there’s only so much money.”
The last budget year ended March 31. In the final analysis the new budget will be going to a public process, although all of the sessions are open to the public.
Educating new councillors? Can you get much more patronising? We hope the new councillors educate the CAO on how to find “efficiencies”.