Sunday, December 12, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Budget Time

As you're probably aware, the way the current council prepares its budget is a constant concern for me. As a council, we don't meet to discuss what direction to give administration in their preparation of the budget, our review of it is perfunctory and rushed, with no time for questions, and last year, we weren't even allowed to see the details of one-third of proposed expenditures, that of the police portion of the budget.

What is probably most concerning to me about this is that, for most members of council, this is okay. Their job of representing the citizens of Prince Albert apparently doesn't extend to doing any detailed research into their obligations, or to asking questions that might make other members of council uncomfortable or angry. And the city as a whole is the loser in this equation, as expenditures go unchallenged and savings are depleted.

It is a reflection of our poor planning, and willingness to buy now, pay later. A good example is the request at last week's meeting for an additional $80,000 for irrigation of the outdoor soccer pitches at the soccer centre - why wasn't this considered when the decision was made to have those soccer pitches? And then, the viewpoint was aired that this wouldn't add to tax rates. Instead, your involuntary donation on your tax bill, already extended once to 2015 because of the project was already a half million dollars over budget, will be extended further. But because the mill rate won't go up to pay specifically for this, some can delude themselves that it isn't a tax increase. I disagree - money that could be used for other purposes will be directed for this. The money that will be needed for other purposes will probably require a tax increase. Your taxes were higher last year because the previous council decided, in an election year, that a zero per cent increase would look good. There was no discussion as to what was needed to run the city properly.

We were supposed to get the budget documents before the end of the year, but now apparently, it won't be in time for tomorrow night's meeting, the last council meeting scheduled before the end of the year. We did, however, have a forewarning that the police budget won't be included. At last week's Committee of the Whole (in camera) meeting, the police chief gave us a one page budget summary, which included no detail, but which we had to return at the end of the meeting. You may recall that last year, we were told that, unlike the other cities in the province, we weren't allowed to see the detailed police budget because criminals might use that information to figure out police crime-busting strategies. Considering how council is being treated again this year, perhaps we're suspected of having criminal leanings.

And, of course, we've already spent money that will come out of next year's budget - it's so much easier to put things on a credit card than it is to figure out how to live within your means. Those iPads, for example, will be paid for out of next year's budget. And in the meantime, we're told that there's no money for proper snow removal left in this year's budget. There was, however, money for each member of council to get full colour Christmas cards, twenty-five each. At least this year's cards don't contain a total fabrication about Prince Albert being known as Canada's Christmas city, and I hope that, unlike in one past year, any copyright concerns were dealt with ahead of time. Because dealing with potential court actions is also a drain on your tax dollars.

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery." - Charles Dickens

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