Monday, September 6, 2010

2009 Financial Report

Our special council meeting last week was to review the 2009 Financial Report, which has to be submitted to the province by September. For the first time in a financial report, the first half of the report was filled with pictures and bragging about what a good job we're doing. In my opinion, spending city dollars on something that verges on electioneering is a waste of money, putting it in full colour is an unnecessary expense, and including pictures of the current council, when the 2009 budget and spending was the responsibility of the previous council, is somewhat misleading. But it was good to finally see the actual numbers.

And the result showed that we ended 2009 with a debt load of close to $26 million dollars. While we still would have incurred some debt, it would have been less if the previous council had not decided to have a 0% tax increase that same year (an election year, by strange coincidence). The supposed words of comfort from administration that we don't need to be concerned because our debt limit is $40 million, so we're well within that, ignore the fact that we voted to increase our debt limit in order to remain within it. It's sort of like feeling richer after your credit card company increases the limit on your Visa - you're no richer, but you've been given permission to spend more money - at a cost of course. The cost of servicing this $26 million of debt? That will be $5.1 million, not an insignificant amount of money.

The other attempt at misdirection, the statement that most of this debt will not be borne by the taxpayer, is ludicrous. Just because the only debt that shows up on your residential tax bill is your share of the $6.73 million dollars to pay for the soccer centre, that statement ignores the fact that the people who pay water bills, which are now significantly higher to pay this debt and will continue to increase every year, are also tax payers. Just because it shows up on a different bill, doesn't mean that it isn't being paid by the same group of people - different pockets, same pair of pants.

In fact, the rural water users, who get their water from the city, are not paying the considerable increases that have been added to water bills through the sewer rate and the infrastructure rate, although they will benefit from the upgrades done to the water treatment plant.

I wish that we would be more upfront about the choices that we make on behalf of the taxpayers. For example, if we had said when the budget was set at a 0% increase in early 2009 that this would result in a higher debt load at the end of the year, with the resultant higher cost in the long run, people would have been able to see the true cost of the 0% increase. But it's more politically expedient to brag about the 0% increase, knowing that the financial report showing more of the story won't be made public for more than a year after the decision, and relying on people's short memories to prevent them from connecting the two.

"Let us all live within our means, even if we have to borrow the money to do it with." - Charles Farrar Browne

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