With the city, we've been most recently hit by the unexpected repair bill for the soccer centre roof - money that wasn't in the budget, of course. It's a familiar quandary - we set our plans for the year in the budget, make tough decisions like the one not to fully fund the waterslide repairs, but stuff always comes up that we have to find emergency money for.
Of course, as with your own budget, there are always things that come in under budget, and these savings can be used to cover the unexpected problems. But we can't rely on that, and it doesn't mean that we shouldn't have a better emergency fund than we do. The inadequacy of our emergency reserves is not because we've had more than our share of emergencies, but more because of foolish actions by past councils, which drained reserves for non-emergency expenses. Building it back up is slow, hard slogging, not made easier by the never-ending requests for funding of this and that.
An example of an additional funding request is the most recent one - to keep the ice in the Art Hauser Centre for extra weeks next spring, for the benefit of figure skaters. In no way can this be considered an essential - it's providing a convenience for a relatively few number of people, who currently have to drive all the way out to Buckland for extended season ice time. And yet, the familiar chorus - "It's for the children" - has already been sounded, making those of us who try to take an objective look at spending look like big meanies. I would have absolutely no problem agreeing to this, if the special interest groups involved would agree to pay the additional costs - but of course, they consider the $10,000 cost too onerous for them, but a perfectly reasonable request to make of the taxpayer, via the city.
I'm not sure where the reasonable line is, but I do think that when we set user fees we shouldn't be looking at just the operating costs of the facilities - we should also be building in a reasonable cost for ongoing maintenance and repair work. We should think of user fees the same way as a landlord thinks of rent - the landlord has to consider the inevitable costs of keeping the building functional in the long run, not just of covering the current operating costs. These additional fees should be put directly into reserves, not left in the general operating budget - it's just to easy to spend it when it's there.
In the meantime, we'll have to figure out how to pay for a major repair in a four-year old building - most likely by pushing another, older building further back in line, and hope that its roof holds out.
"Where is the politician who has not promised to fight for lower taxes - and who has not proceeded to vote for the very spending projects that make tax cuts impossible." - Barry Goldwater