Finance Committee: Money Talks

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The City Council Finance Committee is an under-utilized vehicle for budgetary planning, discussion and consultation.
As reported November 18th, The City of Sault Ste. Marie requests your input for the 2015 Municipal Budget and future years.
Sault Ste. Marie residents are encouraged to email budget comments and suggestions to budgetinput@cityssm.on.ca until Friday, December 19, 2014 but to date no public meetings have been scheduled.

The SSMAR will lobby for support into expanding the role and frequency of Finance Committee meetings so there can be more meaningful and open dialogue into the process of municipal spending and taxation.
• Is it enough for the Finance Committee to simply have two budget input sessions (so far not scheduled) for the public in late November?
• Is it satisfactory to simply say that residents are welcomed to submit their budget suggestions anytime they wish? Outside of the current announced request for input?
• Is it sufficient for a committee for financial discussion to meet only four times a year?
The committee currently consists of four members of City Council and three senior city staff. This group of seven constitute the voting members of the committee. The CAO and the Mayor also sit as non-voting members of the committee. Meetings beyond the slated four times may be authorized by the chair at the request of any member of the committee, at the request of the City’s auditors, or at the request of any member of council.

The Finance Committee must fulfill its responsibility more effectively and be the vehicle where critical fiscal issues and challenges are brought forward and thoroughly discussed and assessed throughout the year.
At the very least, the committee needs to meet on a monthly basis so that important fiscal issues such as property taxation, discretionary spending, asset management, fiscal impact of arbitration and reductions in provincial grants are discussed publicly, thoroughly, on an ongoing basis, and well in advance of the 2015 budget.
In early February of this year (2014), City Finance Department staff fulfilled their public duty and released a preliminary budget nine weeks prior to final budget deliberations. This was a welcomed initiative by the City Finance Department. However, Council members of the Finance Committee did not meet publicly or hold public hearings throughout that entire nine-week period.
We must ensure when the next preliminary budget is released, that councillors who are members of the Finance Committee fully exercise their role and responsibility to examine, hold public hearings and make recommendations on the many important elements of the preliminary budget that may or may not require adjustment, addition or removal.
We believe it crucial that the next council as a whole ensure that an important council committee, the Finance Committee, is maximized to its full potential when it comes to budgetary planning and consultation. One-time final budget deliberations in April cannot continue to be the sole council forum where such important fiscal issues are openly discussed.
We as ratepayers have an important tool called the Finance Committee. It’s time we used it more effectively on behalf of the residents of this community.
If council members of the next Finance Committee continue down the same status quo path as in recent years, then it can only be viewed as a continuing abdication of an important responsibility for a community that deserves better.

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