David Daniels has been monitoring Council activities. We thank him for again reporting to our readers here. Formatting may differ from his original. Later: Our emphases in underlining, Daniels’ is in black bold.
COUNCIL HAPPENINGS: BUDGETING & RETREAT
Before the actual budgeting process began, Council instructed staff to draft a budget so that taxes would not increase from last year.
There have been no less than four budget meetings where the staff has presented its proposals for the new budget.
At the April 30th budget meeting, near the end, Roy Brideau, the CAO, asked Council to reconsider its “no tax increase” mandate. It seemed that Mr. Brideau found that goal unachievable. Also at the April 30th meeting, Deputy Mayor Simpson pointed out that Council had not yet established spending priorities.
[Unfortunately, the Town has not released any of the draft budget documents to the public. When I asked why, I recall I was told that Council was concerned that releasing the documents would result in public confusion.]
I’d like to make a suggestion on how the staff might go about achieving the mandate established by Council. Keeping in mind that Council will have final say, staff should categorize all expenditures into several categories: “required”, “core services”, “optional”. There may be overlap. The staff should explain the reasoning behind its categorization, and be prepared to justify why it chose to place particular spending items into particular categories.
Under “required” would go expenses such as debt repayment, contract obligations for police, contractual obligations to staff, agreements for payments towards school and assessment costs, etc.
Under “core” would go items such as: police, fire, waste disposal, school, road maintenance, sewer, water, etc.
Included in “optional” would be: recreational, cultural, business promotion, parks, donations for the hospice, WAAG, VON, etc.
From the figures provided at meeting I attended the Council’s mandate could be achieved by funding only the items in the “required” and “core services” categories.
Next, the Council would have to review the validity of the categories, the assignment of items into each category, and then make hard decisions whether and how much should be dedicated to “optional” items. Deputy Mayor Simpson’s request for setting priorities comes into play here.
At this point in its deliberations, resident input must be sought. It may turn out the town residents feel they are willing to increase taxes if it means funding for X, Y and Z.
Also, on the revenue side, there may be ways to increase the money coming to the town.
I readily concede that my proposal is neither very complicated nor original with me. Which raises the question: why hasn’t staff or Council proposed this scheme or something similar to it already?
[Can we insert here — isn’t this kind of thinking what we are paying big bucks for our CAO to do?] David Daniels goes on with a report on the retreat.
The Council held retreats on 17th and 27th of April at the Irving Centre. They began at 9 a.m. and lasted till about 3 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively. The goal for the Council was to arrive at, by consensus, a vision for the Town and set goals and objectives and action plans for the remainder of its four year term.
Present were all Council members, Roy Brideau, the Town’s CAO, facilitator Erin Beaudin, the executive director of Kings CED, and me.
Nothing has been finalized and so whatever I report below is subject to change and also subject to the inaccuracies of my memory and scribbled notes.
The first meeting began with a SWOT analysis; SWOT stands for: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
A vision statement was then formulated: the working version is: A VIBRANT AND SUSTAINABLE SMALL UNIVERSITY TOWN WHICH ENRICHES OUR LIVES.
From this vision follows goals, which lead to objectives and then finally to measurable actions plans. Goals are things which are to be: achieved, preserved, avoided and eliminated. The tentative goals which the Council came up with were consolidated and reworked by Ms. Beaudin and Mr. Brideau. There are seven: (1) enhance social diversity; (2) achieve fiscal health; live within one’s means; (3) develop a thriving business community; (4) enhance cultural vibrancy and creativity; (5) foster positive engagement of citizens; (6) enhance the environment of the town; and (7) improve organizational effectiveness and efficiency. These seven goals were divided into three categories: (A) enhance the organization; (B) engagement and communicate; and (C) grow our community.
The Council was divided into three groups and each group was assigned the task of first formulating objectives for each goal category, and then later writing actions plans for specific objectives. In all fairness to the Council, the action plans were formulated at the end of the day and I sensed energy and concentration were in short supply. Unfortunately, the entire Council did not have the opportunity to provide input into the actions each group had drafted. Perhaps this may occur in the final retreat scheduled for May 22nd.
As you may know from my past comments, I am especially interested in public engagement. Under the objectives of “improving the communication with the public” the action plans were: updates in bills, mayors newsletter, update projects on website, public subscription to town calendar and formulate a communication strategy.
Under the the objective of “public consultation process” there were two actions recommended: reviving the community study circles as needed for big projects and require the public advisory committees to invite all concerned citizens and relevant experts.
The information which accompanied your recent tax bill states under “Council’s Strategic Planning Exercise” that the Council “will establish a process to obtain public input to assist in he development of the final document. Again, the Town encourages residents to participate in the process.” (My emphasis.)
It is unfortunate that, to my knowledge, the Council as a whole never discussed when and how the public should participate before the process of formulating the Town’s strategic plan began. Recall, that the recently adopted Municipal Planning Strategy contains in its Vision section the objective “An inclusive community based on social equity and guided by citizen engagement through ongoing public participation” and in the “Melbourne Principles Adapted For Wolfville: “empower people and foster participation.”
David A. Daniels May 4, 2009
Later: Our comment about the vision: Let’s repeat it –A VIBRANT AND SUSTAINABLE SMALL UNIVERSITY TOWN WHICH ENRICHES OUR LIVES.
We don’t want the town “to enrich us”. What if the town’s idea of enrichment doesn’t suit us? Often it doesn’t. What we would like is an environment where all can feel able to enrich their own lives. Does anyone see the difference?