Thanks to everyone who managed to get out to Town Hall ten days before Christmas to watch Council’s most recent and likely last special Budget meeting. The 2012 budget is expected to be approved Monday, December 19th at Council’s final meeting of the year. Once again, please try to attend.
Here’s our take on where we’re at right now.
Old habits always die hard but there are some signs of progress on certain fronts.
For the first time, members of the public attending a Budget meeting were provided with some written material in the form of a one and a half page summary of the items that staff wanted council to consider. Although the summary provided no comparison to the 2011 budget to help see where spending was up or down, it was a first step towards better transparency. We believe this effort deserves a grade of ‘D’ – ‘needs improvement’.
Payroll and staff costs are by far the largest part of Midland’s ongoing operating costs. They will still need a lot more work to reduce built-in, year-over-year cost increases. With that said, a majority of council took some small but important first steps here too:
- Reduced overtime in the Fire Department by $75,000; remember Midland Fire had the highest spending per household of all the towns and cities we studied;
- Removed a proposed staff addition for the Planning Department from the budget; we strongly supported “no net staff additions” given that Midland’s population grew 5% from 2000-2009 while staff grew a staggering 39%;
- Imposed a hiring freeze until a Management Review of the Town’s operations is completed -no new positions and no filling vacant positions; this still requires a formal council vote on Monday;
- Capped salary increases for members of Council and non-unionized employees at 2% in 2012 – reduced from 2.5% originally proposed;
- Decided to ask unionized employees including Part-time Firefighters and Police to also accept a 2% increase even if their collective agreements call for larger increases; their response will show whether they want to play on a bigger team and contribute to a solution.
It looks like Midland’s piece of the tax bill will be up about 1% over last year. This is much better than originally proposed but still not the 0% we believe Midland Council will have to achieve for many years in a row if it really wants to be able to successfully compete for the new development Midland desperately needs.
All in all, we think the members of Midland Council who supported these first steps in getting the Town budget under control deserve a grade of ‘C+’, not as much for the results achieved as for understanding there is a problem and for beginning to try to solve it. For the members of Council who unfortunately still don’t get it, their grade obviously remains an ‘F’.
As 2011 begins to wind down, thanks to all of you who contributed time, money and talents to midlandcommunity.ca this year. We have made real headway on both policy and taxes in 2011 but as you well know, lots of work still lies ahead.
Season’s greetings from all of us,
Roy Ellis and George Dixon on behalf of midlandcommunity.ca