Midland Council continues in their struggle to get the budget to a number in the 2-3% range.
-Previous council met on three occasions to review 2011’s proposed budget.
-The budget is the responsibility of new council to approve.
-Newly elected Mayor McKay ran on a platform committing to a budget increase not to exceed the inflation rate- (Ontario Consumer Price Index currently trends at 3%, November ytd).
– We believe this target is still too high given the fragile economy, high unemployment and the low return on investments experienced by the large population on fixed income. Having said that the total increase in new spending contemplated in the budget is approaching $1,100,000.00 or a 7% increase over last year.
– At this time, it is impossible for us to report on the exact number being contemplated, as decisions aren’t final and we do not have the most recent budget.
– Council was asked at this budget session to support certain initiatives in principle, with a goal to bring to conclusion on January 17.
– Fire and Police budgets are currently projected to increase approximately 10% and 7% respectively. These two departments combined expenditures represent approximately 31% of 2010’s base budget.
– Given this reality, these two departments may have to “sharpen their pencils” if the town is to achieve an acceptable outcome without risking services being impacted in other key areas.
– Absent the benefit of the fluid budget document, we guestimate the current requested increase in spend by Fire and Police is in the neighbourhood of $480,000-which approximates 3% of the total budget.
– We need clarification as to whether or not the budget target of 2-3% is an overall spending increase or the impact on one’s property tax rate increase. New revenue from increased assessment base approximates $550,000. We believe this new revenue growth is adequate to support existing services, resulting in no increase in 2011 to our individual tax bill.
– Note that this budget will be on top of an expected increase to water/sewer rate increases contemplated between 9-14%.
– Some discussion was had around 2010 surplus monies going into 2011’s operating budget versus going into reserves. There was a general feeling amongst council and town staff that this “creative accounting” would be inappropriate- we concur with this view as this practice would not represent a fix.
– We remain concerned that social services may become casualties of this budget process. By way of example there was much debate around reducing the budget for accessible transit. In the final analyses, council supported a placeholder dollar amount that mirrored 2010’s actual costs. As we stated to council in our deputation, “the thinking should be that if we have only $1.00 to spend, then .99 cents of that dollar should be spent on supporting the most needy in our community”. With this as a backdrop and a guiding principle, we encourage council to drill deeper on staff additions and related costs, as well as the two departments mentioned above: Fire with a 10% increase and Police with a 7% increase. If there is to be a “sacred cow” in this process, it needs to be to help those less fortunate in our community.
– Finally, approximately $2.2 million dollars is spent each year to support the museum, the library and the arena. The 1st of the Baby Boomers hits 65 this year and we face a significantly older population. One might therefore conclude that we need to put more energies and dollars, not less, into accessible transit, and for that matter, all forms of affordable transportation. Simply, what is the point in having these cultural icons, if residents are limited in their ability to frequent them?
We conclude with a recent and timely quote from Garfield Dunlop printed in The Free Press, December 29/10.
“WHAT BOTHERS ME ABOUT POLITICS AT THE LOCAL LEVEL IS WHEN SOMEBODY PUTS IN A NEW TAX YOU HEAR COUNCILLORS OR MAYORS SAY; IT’S ONLY GOING TO COST THE AVERAGE HOUSEHOLD, $40 or $45. A LOT OF PEOPLE JUST DON’T HAVE $45.”