Wed., Jan. 9th (6:00 pm, City Hall) is the meeting to pass the 2013 City of Fredericton budget: http://www.fredericton.ca/en/index.asp
There was also a public meeting last night where the capital, operating, and grants budgets were presented. These meetings were announced in my last newsletter (http://leahlevac.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/ward-10-newsletter-1-9dec20.pdf), and at the last City Council meeting (Dec. 10). Last night’s and tomorrow night’s meetings are a change from the originally posted schedule (Nov. 5, Nov. 28, Dec. 3, Dec. 11). More on this below.
Ultimately, the budget to be presented tomorrow night is a $104M budget. We will vote on several motions, culminating in the passing of the budget. The budget is balanced, and the total revenue is a 2.86% increase over last year’s budget. The increase is almost exclusively the result of our tax base increase (mostly from increased provincial assessments on the value of homes, and also from new construction). The actual tax base increase would have been almost 5%, but the cuts to the unconditional grant (more below) and the federal payment in lieu of taxes absorbed the remainder. This table shows the breakdown.
|Federal Payment In Lieu of Taxes
A 2.86% increase to the gross budget does not reflect the increase required to maintain our current level of services (the annual increase to our cost of operations is approx. 3.1% due to cost of living salary increases, rising costs of materials, and so on), so the difference has been made up through many found efficiencies. Staff members have done an exceptional job with the budget in light of this year’s circumstances and all service levels will be maintained this year.
In addition to being balanced, the budget includes many new initiatives that have been identified as priorities by residents throughout the city. Of particular note (and pleasure) for me is some funding for the developing youth action team, some re-allocated funds for some new citizen engagement work, and a comprehensive transit review. There will be a more detailed release of the contents of the budget after tomorrow night.
Back to the schedule change. The change to the budget schedule is not ideal, and I realize that many will not have known about last night’s or tomorrow night’s meeting. The core of the issue is that the final budget was originally scheduled to be passed on Dec. 11. The original schedule was in one of my newsletters, announced at our last community meeting, on the city website, etc. That schedule was way-laid when the province announced a $1.3M cut to our budget (through its unconditional grant formula) in late Nov.
As a result, the last public meeting (Dec. 3) was cancelled, as was the Dec. 11 meeting. Staff spent the interim time working on how to address the cut without lowering service levels or increasing the tax rate. To replace the Dec. 3 and Dec. 11 meetings, last night’s meeting and tomorrow’s meeting were scheduled. I appreciate that these meetings are too close together, leaving little time for citizen participation, and I realize that changing the process mid-way makes the process less accessible. For that, I apologize. If there’s anything I can try and offer by way of information today or tomorrow, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
As I mentioned above, staff members have been working under extraordinary circumstances this year given the late changes to our revenue figures. I have been very impressed by the extensive work that they (especially the senior staff team and the City Treasurer, who is a tireless woman!) have done. So, while I acknowledge that the timing of these meetings is not ideal, I also sincerely believe that our options were extremely limited, and that this seemed to be the best option.
As a follow up thought, through this year’s budget process, residents have been identifying policy issues that are reflective of some of their budgetary concerns (sidewalk clearing, communication strategies, etc.). I will use Facebook, my newsletter, community meetings, and other avenues to try and prioritize ideas to bring forward leading into next year’s budget. I also know that Councillor Grandy, the Chair of the Finance Committee, is interested in exploring ways for the process to become increasingly participatory and engaging for the public. I am pleased about his enthusiasm on this front (and for the will of many of my colleagues on this matter), and will be working with him on this piece.