More budget buzz

UPDATE: The overview that we received in the mail is now up on the Town website — a little late seeing that the budget meeting is tomorrow night. Word is that the troops are being rallied for us — as taxpayers rather than as individual donors —  to support the hospice  and probably the playground which would add a point on the rate. Will there be any who will have the guts to stand up against them?

Here is some valuable commentary from David Daniels on the proposed 2009/10 Budget  (which is now posted on the Town website in PDF ). We have taken the liberty of adding some emphasis in red ink.

BUDGET NUMBERS AND COMMENTS

Those who do not learn from past budget expenditures are condemned to pay for them, again and again.*

Council this year worked hard to hold the line on the budget.  However, the Council did not make sufficient effort to understand and then perhaps tackle entrenched spending for “General Government and Administration” services.

Here are a few facts not included in the proposed budget.  Since 2001, the population and number of private residences in Wolfville have likely increased less than 10%.  Between 2000 and 2008 the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by approximately 22.9%.

Since fiscal year 2000-2001, the Town’s overall budget has increased over 46%.   Since the 1999-2000 fiscal year, the cost of General Government Services, basically the cost of operating Town Hall, including administrative salaries, has risen 89.6%.

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The official population of Wolfville in 2001 was 3658 and there were 2184 private dwellings.  In 2006, the last year Statistics Canada completed its census, the population had increased to 3772  and private dwellings to 2269.    The population  from 2001 to 2006 increase by 3.1% and the number of private dwellings increased by 3.9%.**   (The population figures apparently do not include all of the student population.)

The CPI for “all items” in Nova Scotia was: 2000 – 3.6%;  2001 – 3.6%; 2002 – 5.2%; 2003 – 1.8%; 2004 – .6%; 2005 – 2.0%; 2006 – 1.9%; 2007 – 3.0%; 2008 – 1.2%.***

The CPI increased from 2000 through 2008 a total of  22.9% and annually at a rate of 2.5%.***

Another way Statistics Canada presents CPI information:  what cost $100.00 in 2002, would cost in January 2009 $113.4.

TOTAL EXPENDITURES

The Town’s total estimated expenditures for fiscal year  2000 – 2001 was $4,840,019.00.

The proposed total expenditures for the Town in 2009-2010  is $7,091,203.00.

Assuming the proposed budget is adopted, the increase from fiscal years 2000 – 2001 to 2009 – 2010 would be $2,251,184.00 or 46.5%

POLICE AND GENERAL GOVERNMENT SERVICES

Actual expenditures for April 1999 to March 2000 include:

General Government –  $575,406.00
Police Protection        –    758,141.00
Planning                    –       81,262.00
Recreation Dept.         –    117,085.00
Heritage and Culture  –      76,327.00

General Government expenditures included items such as:

Mayor Stipend               $    9,705.00
Council Stipends               28,608.00
Administration Salaries   204,811.00
CPP                                    7,087.00

The cost of police services increased during the past ten years from $758,141.00 in 1999 – 2000 to the proposed $1,042,425.  That is an increase of 37.5%  or approximately 3.75% per year.

The actual expenditure for “General Government” services for fiscal year 1999 – 2000 was $575,406.00.  The draft budget proposes spending $1,091,203.00 on General Government and Administration Services.

That is a whopping 89.6% increase or an average annual increase of 8.9% over ten years.

GRANT IN LIEU

It appears that the Town for the fiscal year 2000 – 2001 received revenue attributable to Acadia University in the amount of $256,481.00

The Grant in Lieu from Acadia University for 2005 was $319,472.00.

In the fiscal year ending March 31, 2007, the Grant in Lieu had increased to $811,202.00.  The proposed budget estimates the Grant in Lieu to be $768,699.00 for the upcoming fiscal year.

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How can the budgetary increases which far exeed [sic] population increases or the increase in the CPI be explained?  In particular, how can the increased cost of General Government and Administration services which far outpaced the increases in population or CPI, be explained?****

Here is one possible explanation.

During the past two terms of Council the Town government had available to it increased revenue resulting from the steady increase in the market value of homes, new construction of residences and increased revenue from the Grant in Lieu.

At the same time, Council increased the demands it placed on the administration of the Town government.

Let me give a few recent examples of this latter trend.

Wolfville was the first town in Canada to implement the “No Smoking in Cars with Children” bylaw.  Putting aside the merits of the bylaw, an investigation and report had to be completed as part of the bylaw adoption process.  Who did the investigation and drafted the report: Town staff.

Recently, the Town Council completed its retreat during which Council members devised a new town vision, new goals, new objectives and action plan.  At the end of the meeting, when the question was raised that the action plan had no specifics, Mr. Brideau volunteered that Town staff would be filling in the blanks.

I suspect that the increased tasks assigned to the Town administrative staff, which of course triggered the need for more personnel, did not happen suddenly, but slowly over time.

Some of the outsized increases in expenditures may be due to the greater demands placed upon municipalities by the Provincial and Federal governments.

It’s also possible that with increased population or private residences, a tipping point is reached and a new employee or piece of equipment is required.

And expenditures to lower the Town’s debt or increase money in the capital reserve account may account for some of the increases.

But these factors and perhaps others cannot fully explain either the overall increase in the Town’s budget over the past ten years or, in particular, the outsized increases in spending for General Government Services.

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The Town Council in its marathon budget deliberations should have tackled issues of past budgetary increases.  But the Council seems to have kicked that can down the road, or at least passed its responsibilities to the new Fiscal Sustainability Task Force.

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*  If I may be excused for bastardizing Santayana’s observation.  For those who are interested, the actual quotation is: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

** I am no mathematician, statistician or accountant.

***   I could find no single chart which presented the annual average increase in CPI for Nova Scotia for the subject years.  I pieced together information derived from different tables prepared by Statistics Canada.

****It’s possible that the types of expenditures included in particular spending categories has changed over time.  For example, what may have been included as “Government Services” in the 1999-2000 budget may be different from what is included in “General Government and Administration Services”.

David A. Daniels
May 24, 2009

Thank you David. That confirms our observations over the years.

In a somewhat related matter– we are hearing reports of difficulties with the Fiscal Sustainability Task Force Survey. More on that later.

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3 responses to “More budget buzz

  1. I look at the budget with one question in the back of my mind: What are taxpayers, like you and me, getting for this budget line item?

    When I see $150k for “Street Patching” I’m inclined not to argue for a cut in spending. Similarly, for sewage, water and garbage collection — I can see we are at least getting something for our money. One might quibble about the details, of course.

    Then I look at “Environmental Development, Planning & Zoning”. Here we see $163k in salaries, $28k in employee benefits, $9k for IT services, $8k in travel/training, and $5k for consultants . Don’t forget the $12.5k legal bill — to cover who’s butt? Most of the budget seems to be about providing for a bunch of bureaucrats. But what are they doing? What are the taxpayers getting? Other line items give us a few clues:
    (1) $0 for a “Downtown Physical Plan”. Wow?
    (2) $0 for a “Transportation Plan”. Ahem?
    (3) $0 for a “MPS and LUB Review”. To be fair, this was an item that was acted on in previous years. Some citizens may recall what a disaster that was! It gives me a warm glow to see money spent so well.
    (4) $1.5k for “Wolfville Sustainability”. I just l-o-v-e that buzz word.
    (5) $7k for “Orthophoto Project”. Beats me?
    (6) $10k for “Partners in Climate Protection”. OK, this probably has something to do with sealevel rise. Well, it’s simple. Sealevel has been rising relative to the land ever since Europeans came to this place — and before. It seems to be rising a bit faster now than in previous centuries. End of story. There is no need for a bureaucratic talk-feast. OK, if Council was going to spend a bit of money building up the dykes, I’d understand. But talk is not cheap — and I hate paying for it.

    When I add it all up, it looks like this to me. The taxpayer is funding bureaucrats to the tune of $225k to do about $18.5k of talking and fluff. I don’t see what we are getting for this. Do you?

  2. No we don’t. Do go to the Budget meeting tomorrow night. You may have to register – in advance – to speak.

  3. Residential tax rate down 2cents 1.39
    Commercial Tax rate 3.53 up 12 cents
    Do the 60 plus vendors who do business in town every Saturdaay pay tax, and I don’t mean their little 2grand a year of which they get most of it back in FREE advertising, because they are a community event.
    Business occupancy tax will NOT be eliminated, but put on to the landlords who will in turn raise the rents. Same Tax new name,the same people will still be paying. Who will want to do business in Wolfville, other than the the Farmers Market.
    I agree with Brian cut the fluff.
    Shame on them for the guilt trip, hospice and playground. Give us a break. Fund the hospice and playground, cut the fluff.