When I started this blog, its purpose was to keep the residents of Ward Three (and any other citizens of Prince Albert who were interested) informed about the goings-on at city council, and a better look at issues and my take on them. So why, in the week and a couple of days since budget discussions and the initial vote, have I not blogged? Well, I've been trying to work within the system, to not raise concerns publicly until I've done whatever I can to resolve things internally.
As you're probably aware, council sat through a very long day in late March (Friday, the 28th), going through the budget. I left the meeting at 6:30; it evidently went for another 45 minutes before the remaining members of council decided that they were finished. I still think that dividing the deliberations over two days, as was scheduled, would have made for a better product. A summary of the resulting budget was on our desks at the start of the next council meeting, Monday, March 31. We were expected to vote on this final budget, even though the final numbers were different than in the draft budget that we had been reviewing, and there was no clear explanation as to why we now had a new total.
I refused to give consent to the third reading of the budget bylaw. Since council hadn't had time to thoroughly review the final result, let alone giving citizens that courtesy, and three councillors were absent, I saw no need for such haste. This normally would mean that the third and final reading would be at the next council meeting two weeks later.
The next day I went through the final budget details, and found that some rather crucial items had been missed. At the Relay for Life launch on April 2, I had a chance to discuss this with one of my fellow councillors, who was also concerned about some overlooked items.
On April 3, we got notice that there would be a special council meeting on April 7, before the regularly scheduled Executive Meeting, with the purpose of holding the third vote on the budget. I still don't understand the rush. Tax notices won't go out until the school boards have finished their budgeting processes, usually late April or early May, so it isn't as if everyone else is waiting for us to finish our budget deliberations. And special meetings don't have Shaw Cable present, so not as many people are aware of what happens.
At this point, there weren't too many options. Because I wasn't the only councillor concerned, I decided to try to work within council to see if changes could be made at this date. What I hoped would happen would be that we would be able to reconsider the original motion to pass the budget, iron out some of these wrinkles, then at the next council meeting pass a budget that everyone was clear on, and where all the implications were clearly understood.
This didn't happen. The budget passed. I voted against it, because I don't think that it is the budget that the city needs at this time, and I don't think that the increase is for essentials. I'm still trying to work within council, as other councillors have told me that these oversights were not intentional, and that discussions on how to resolve the issues are continuing. In the interests of not jeopardizing whatever conversations are going on at this time, I'm not releasing the specific details around my concerns just yet, but should things go sideways, and fundamental city programs suffer, I shall be quite upset. Mostly at myself, for trusting that other councillors would share my concern about doing things right, and admitting mistakes before long-term damage occurs. Stay tuned.
On another note, one of my wife's coworkers asked her to explain his water bill today - he couldn't understand why it had increased so much when his consumption hadn't. She explained the new infrastructure maintenance costs and sanitation charges, and told him that his water bill will keep increasing, 8% each year for the next several years. He was most indignant, and became even more so when she told him that businesses would not be paying those same increases. "But a car wash uses way more water than I do" he said. "They should be paying more too." That makes sense to me, and did when we passed this increase on to homeowners but not businesses, but that's not what we decided to do. Now that the new water bills are out, more people will be realizing this inequity, I'm sure.
"Education is when you read the fine print. Experience is what you get if you don't." - Pete Seeger