Budget Questions

Here are some comments and questions David Daniels has about the 2009/10 Proposed Budget. He is not prevented from asking questions here. The question we have is – will anyone on Council listen?  Daniels also has some comments on funding the Hospice which we have reserved for another post. Daniels’ submission is in italics. Bold emphases are ours, underlining is his.

The following are a few comments and questions I have concerning the proposed 2009-2010 budget.

> The 2009-2010 proposed budget (the “PB”), presented to the public at the May 26th meeting, lists a number of “significant changes” which are intended to reduce the tax rate.  See page 5.   One of the changes listed is “reduced staff compensation adjustments.”

  • What was the “adjustment” in percentages?
  • And how does the adjustment compare to the change in the Consumer Price Index (“CPI”)? According to Statistics Canada, CPI for Nova Scotia increased, depending upon whether the year is measured from March 2008 to March 2009 or April 2008 to April 2009 either0.0% or minus 0.4%, respectively.   For the same dates, the change in CPI for Canada was 1.2% and 0.4%.
  • Did all Town employees receive a compensation adjustment?

> In order to make the budget more understandable, it would be helpful if the number of employees per department was specified.

  • The PB states that the town has 33 permanent full time employees and 9 permanent seasonal staff but there is no breakdown as to number of employees per department as listed in the organizational chart presented on page 12.
  • Also, the Departments listed in the organizational chart do not have the clear counterpart in the categories contained in the PB.

Why do pages 45 and 46 of the PB list the budget for years 2007-2008 and 2008-2009?  Are just the dates wrong or all the numbers as well?

> Another “significant change”  meant to reduce the tax rate is “reduced council and staff travel.” (PB at page 5)

  • For 2009-2010, the town allocates $57,500.00 for council and staff training, conferences, seminars and travel expenses.  How does this number compare with similar sized towns?
  • Under the subcategory “Legislative” (p.32) the 2008-2009 budget lists $25,000.00 for “Council Training, Conference, Seminars”.  But the actual Balance as of March 31, 2009 (unaudited) is $13,514.00.  For 2008-2009 there is nothing ($0.0) listed for “Council Travel Expenses” either budgeted or balance at March 31, 2009.  But the amount budgeted for 2009-2010 “Council Training, Conference, Seminars” is $15,000.00 and for “Council Travel Expense” $2,500.00.  So unless the unaudited figure changes, there does not appear to be an actual reduction for “Council” travel but an increase.
  • Something similar appears under the general category of “General Administrative.” (p. 33)  The Budget for “Staff training, Conference, W.shops, Seminars” for 2008-2009 was $28,000.00.  As of March 31, 2009, the end of the fiscal year, the unaudited amount spent was $22,157.00.  $0.0 was budgeted and spent for “staff travel expenses”  in 2008-2009.  Now, in the proposed budget for 2009-2010, the amount allocated for  Staff training, Conference, W.shops, Seminars is $13,500.00, but there now is $9,500.00 for “staff travel expenses”.  The total allocated for staff training and travel for the coming fiscal year totals  $23,000.00, which is more than what was spent last year, at least the unaudited figures.

> Administrative salaries under General Government (at page 32) are listed as $348,267.00.

  • > At the April 13th budget meeting, Councilor Laceby stated that the cost of operating our staff grew at a rate of 22% per year for the last ten years. My figures show that the “General Government” expenditures rose by about 89% for the last ten years while the CPI in Nova Scotia increased by approximately 32% from 2000 to 2008.
  • According to my calculations, “General Government and Administration Expenditures” make up 15.4% of the total budget.  How does this compare to other municipalities?
  • I attended most of the budget meetings and read the minutes of those meetings I did not attend.  During the budgetary process, neither staff nor Council appears to have addressed directly the observations of Councilor Laceby.    Perhaps the Council is awaiting recommendations from the Fiscal Sustainability Task Force.

It “appears” that the proposed budget for General Government and Administration decreased this year from last year’s budget, from $1,111,394 to 2009-2010 $1,091,203. See the yellow sheet handed out at the May 26th meeting and mailed to citizens.  On closer examination, the “decrease”  is more illusory than real.

  • The 2008-2009 budget included $18.000.00 for election and $0.0 is budgeted this fiscal year; Randall Museum got $10,000.00 last year but $0.0 is budgeted this year under “General Government”.  (I believe the museum is funded this year but under another category.)  The Town pension plan was budgeted at $30,000.00 for 2008-2009, but only $18,000.00 for this fiscal year.  This might seem like a decrease except the unaudited balance at the end of the fiscal year (March 31, 09) shows an expenditure of only $3,330.00.

Throughout the PB, staff seemed to be budgeting based upon the prior fiscal year (2008-2009) “budgeted” amount rather than actual expenditures and revenues. In addition to the amount of staff pension, just mentioned, see discussion of Council travel discussed previously.  Other examples appear on the “Community Development” section of the PB.   There may be good reasons for this, but they are not apparent in the document provided to the public.

> The discussion of Residential Tax Rates in the PB at pages 7-8 are not especially helpful in understanding the budget.

  • The following statement appears on page 7 of the PB: “However, although the residential tax rate has decreased over the past five years, the property tax assessments have increased and resulted in an increased tax burden.”  My underlining.  This statement is at best misleading and is contradicted by other statements in the PB.  Increased tax burden results from increasing costs for such services as policing, schooling, and the housing authority.  See yellow sheet.  When the Town’s share of costs is based in part upon the total assessed value of property in the Town, for example the cost of Valley Waste, then, assuming Wolfville’s percentage increase is greater than the increase in other towns, Wolfville’s share of costs may increase with increased assessments.
  • > The chart comparing the Town’s assessment rates with other towns, at page 8, is interesting, but not especially useful in understanding the Town’s budget.  What would be helpful would be a comparison of costs, for example, for General Government Services and Recreation, etc. with other municipalities.

David A. Daniels
June 10, 2009

The statement in red above, which is completely idiotic if one has any comprehension of how property taxes work, shows that the person who wrote it has no understanding of Town functions, authority and responsibilities  OR that person is consciously deceptive. Where does it say municipalities must collect when assessment rises*? NOWHERE. Municipalities collect because their costs rise. They keep trying to take our eyes off the ball.  Councillors decide. THEY have the authority. No one else. Not the CAO. Not staff.

* If this refers to the few cases where assessments are directly part of a cost formula such as payment to the new property valuation service, this is small change compared to the overall budget.


One response to “Budget Questions

  1. I applaud David Daniels for his careful (and polite) analysis of the Proposed Budget… We are up against deceptive monsters, getting to the truth is not easy.

    The observation by Councilor Laceby certainly deserves serious attention! Even 10% per year would be over the top!

    If the Mayor (who else) blocks David’s questions then it’s probably time for us all to pick up our pitchforks and grab our axes.