Sunday, December 13, 2015

Setting This Year's Tax Increase

It took two council meetings, but council passed this year's tax rate this past week - an increase of 1%.  I supported this budget, because the proposed loan to the Tourism Board was removed from the budget, where it didn't belong, since it isn't part of the actual budget.  Council will vote on the loan at a future meeting.

While the budget process is still not where I would like it to be, since we only look at proposed new expenditures, not on where our current spending could be trimmed, I think that council did a good job of taking out non-essential increases.  I keep hoping that some year, we'll do a more thorough job, but at least this council looked at the budget before deciding what the increase would be - I've been on past councils where a target rate increase was set before we even looked at the budget, based on how much of an increase was thought to be bearable to residents - that's doing things backward, in my opinion.  I think that the budget should be based on what work needs to be done, and how much can be done within a year, rather than setting an artificial target.

As I mentioned, the process did take two meetings.  This is because allowing three readings of a bylaw at one meeting requires unanimous consent of all council members, and one councillor wasn't prepared to do that.  I have no problem with that - those are the rules, and it's every councillor's right to ask for a delay.  The reason that he gave was that the police budget has not yet been confirmed, as council refused to accept the proposed budget, and that led to some confused discussion around police budget approval.

So, to try to clear up the process: the police commission submits a budget request to council.  Unlike with other parts of the budget, council cannot tinker with the police budget.  The only options are to approve or not.  Council cannot, for example, say that we aren't approving a specific expenditure.  So if the police submit a budget that includes a set amount to buy new police cars, council cannot say that we will approve only half the number of cars, and reduce the budget accordingly.  What has happened so far is that the police budget has been submitted, and council has returned it to the police commission, saying that we will only allocate an amount that is $200,000 less than their proposed budget.  The police commission then has two choices, to rework and resubmit the budget so that it fits, or not rework the budget, but work throughout the year to manage on the reduced allocation.  The result is the same - they will get $200,000 less than they requested.

We could have avoided this situation by not having the budget vote until after the next police commission meeting, which is tomorrow, at which point the commission will decide how they are going to proceed.  But for whatever reason, it was brought forward before that happened, leading to the potential that someone would object to the process being off-kilter, and someone did.  As I said, well within his rights, and I've done the same more than once, but his concern over the lack of a police budget didn't stop the budget getting unanimous approval the next day, at a special council meeting.  Again, the special meeting wasn't required, as we have another council meeting in a couple of weeks, but special meetings for third readings are a bad habit that the previous mayor started, and maybe some members of council have forgotten that we don't need to be in a hurry all the time - especially about the budget.

Once we had voted, I did not see the need to delay the final vote - the result will be the same whether voted on now or in two weeks.  But the resultant focus of the media not on the budget, but on the delay, is probably a good thing to remember in the future, if we want to ensure that people are aware of the important things, not the red herrings.

"A budget is like a mythical bean bag.  (Council) votes mythical beans into it, then reaches in and tries to pull real ones out." - Will Rogers

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