The 2nd draft of the 2014 budget of the Town of Midland was presented to Council Thursday. A refreshingly public and transparent process led by Carolyn Tripp the new CAO and implemented by Mr. Marc Villeneuve, CFO. While this is not the final budget, the upshot was recognition by both staff and Council of the need for cost containment due to a continued lack of growth in Midland along with the lowest average household income and virtually the highest municipal tax rate in the County. Low to no growth hurts Midland, so it was encouraging to see an effort to redirect funds and focus towards economic growth through continued planning for the Unimin lands, development of a Downtown Strategic Plan and continued funding for tourism and economic development.
All but one Department submitted the requested 0% and 2% budget scenarios. Council was therefore able to make the tough decisions based upon the reasoned inputs of those Departments. The Police Service budget was the only non-conformer to the 0% and 2% request from Council submitting a budget showing year over year increases of 3.65%. While Council listened attentively to the arguments made by Chief Osborne, they nonetheless sent the budget back to the Police services Board with the restated request for 0% and 2% scenarios. A fair request given the compliance of all other Departments to the process set out by Council.
Library suggested early evening closures to achieve a 2% cost increase and a Monday morning closure to reach the 0% target. Council asked repeatedly if volunteers might alleviate the need for the proposed action. The Librarian’s opinion is that only professionals, not volunteers could handle cash transactions, keep confidential information to themselves and handle a myriad of complex tasks. To say that Council’s response was disbelief would be an exercise in understatement. Council suggested that the Librarian’s opinion might be reexamined in light of excellent experiences with volunteers at RVH, MCC, etc, not to mention our own first class Hospital (GBGH) highly supported by committed, competent and passionate volunteers.
By the evenings conclusion expenditure increases had been trimmed from 2.8% to 1.68% respectively. The common understanding of Midland’s current weaknesses and its strengths by most involved in this budget process was very refreshing and even mildly promising. Recognition of the need to embrace growth and pursue it through good planning and economic development permeated the entire evening. Growth will result from solid initiatives such as the Unimin purchase, combined with good planning directly supporting a unified vision of the future shown by many of Council on Thursday. Such growth will in the end validate the tough decisions made by majority Staff and Council that same evening. They will indeed have taken a major step to help Midland’s future arrive ahead of schedule.
Stewart Strathearn for Midlandcommunity.ca