City staff appear to be taking some heat for not coming up with reductions in department spending that would have allowed council to come up with a zero increase in discretionary spending.
I am probably going to be the odd man out here in saying that I am not all that unhappy that they didn’t.
Because as far as I am concerned, it would have smacked too much of being an election-year budget and, if you recall, we went through that in 2014.
Rejecting a note of caution from then chief administrative officer Joe Fratesi, electioneering councillors got to the zero increase they sought by using $2.1 million of an unexpected surplus of $3.6 million and about $575,000 of casino revenue.
Staff had come forward with a budget that proposed a slight increase in taxes but council insisted on getting to zero.
“We can get you to zero but budgeting isn’t about one year; it’s about one year and all the years to follow,” Fratesi told council.
I said in a column at the time that Fratesi was the man who should know since during his 10-year tenure as mayor there were several zero-tax increases and as a result our roads took a beating from which they were still recovering.
However, the zero increase didn’t appear to cause all that much of a problem the following year, as some of us had worried would be the result of what we saw as an election budget.
Although staff originally projected a municipal levy increase of 4.5 percent, they eventually presented a budget that saw a recommended increase of 2.2 percent. Council got that cut down to an increase of 1.98 percent.
This week council set the rate for 2018 which saw an increase of 1.98 percent.
Actually, I prefer to see increases every year to guard against being hit with a large increase in any year.
I realize some on council and also many taxpayers would prefer that any surplus money be returned to taxpayers, but I believe that there always should be an ample reserve to take care of a rainy day.
Chief Administrative Officer Al Horsman in a report to council said in regard to the 2018 budget that to effectively adjust net expenditures a third-party analysis, such as that performed on user fees, should be equally undertaken for expenditure items.
Council on May 8 had approved a resolution presented by Coun. Matthew Shoemaker and seconded by Rick Niro that five city departments, public works and engineering, emergency services, legal, corporate services and community development and enterprise services present council with preliminary budgets with a zero percent increase over their 2017 approved budgets.
The resolution also called for the departments to include a list of cost-saving options for council to consider in achieving that zero percent budget change.
But that wasn’t all the resolution sought in the way of reductions.
It went on to ask that staff go a step further than presenting options to achieve a zero-percent increase, that they provide a further list of cost-saving options that council could consider to actually bring about a one percent overall reduction from their respective 2017 budgets.
That being the eventual goal, I don’t see why council didn’t go for the gusto straight off, asking for the one-percent reduction rather than beating around the bush with the initial call for a zero-percent increase.
I don’t think anyone will quarrel with some councillors wanting staff to take a hard look at their departments in regard to cost-cutting. Because in truth it was long overdue.
But Horsman may have put his finger on something in suggesting that a third-party analysis might be in order, with qualified outsiders working with staff to figure out where cuts or efficiencies could be made.
I look on the 2018 budget as a start.
Staff may not have given up all it should have and council might not have gotten all it wanted, but I can’t see those in the community complaining all that much about an increase of 1.98 percent in their tax bills.