Annual Municipal budget presentations and discussions open for public input are an essential part of operating any municipality. Details of projected revenue and expenditure estimates are laid out for the coming year, and include both operating and capital needs. After debate, agreement and approval is reached and the tax rate implication is communicated to the taxpayer.
For the process to work well, with as little upset as possible, it is a fundamental requirement that there is full disclosure of back up details of and the reasoning behind recommendations and initiatives for expenditures made to Council and the public by staff. Any lack of transparency which results in questioning intent or uncovers surprises which cause suspicion are ominous signs. And trust is often the victim.
CFBB has already delegated on some important concerns dealing with the Mayor’s staff complement and its cost to the taxpayer. As well, we have made an impassioned plea for the Council to address the need to have those property owners with secondary units pay additionally to defray the cost of fire protection, waste excess, and schooling overload.
In the paper this week, we have been alarmed to learn that some significant projected budget “asks” were somehow not made public by staff. Particularly egregious were the recommendations to provide an in-house $200,000 fitness centre for employees, $116,000 for artwork and three big screen televisions in the employee lunch room, over $1,250,000 for 5th and 6th floor renovations to improve office relationships amongst Councillors, and $100,000 to develop and install new “way-finding” signage in City buildings.
Did anyone at City Hall consider the optics of these requests? At a time when the City is facing a massive infrastructural shortfall which will require a special levy on the taxpayer, and a major severance exposure to meet the impact of the “house cleaning of staff” two months ago, CFBB believes that the above requests show a lack of sensitivity to the aggrieved taxpayer, already carrying the weight of the hospital levy assigned for equipment needs at the new Peel Memorial Health and Wellness centre.
To put it in perspective, staff, for instance, need to compare their work environment and their guaranteed benefit package with the private employee, their benefits and lack of employment security where uncertainty reigns supreme these days.
It is our hope at CFBB that those who have proposed these expenditures take a detailed look at these initiative requests, and determine whether they can be justified at all in this year’s upcoming budget. And as a caution, the taxpayer and CFBB do not react well to any lack of transparency from the administration, on new unjustified expenditures, on unfulfilled contracts, on sloppy oversight, and on exposures to legal matters that may have significant impact on the citizen and the City. Collectively, we will not be taken for granted.
We are pleased to see our Mayor asserting her leadership role in support of the taxpayer and voting against some of the same requests that CFBB found to be unacceptable and optically deficient.
Doug Bryden and Chris Bejnar CFBB co-chairs