It has been made clear time and time again over the last few months that teamwork is not an option for council. Last night was no different. On a positive note, they’ve nailed the consistency piece.
At the start of the budget meeting last night, they had started at a 0.61% increase which, if you’re following along was where we ended up after last week’s meeting. However, by the end of the meeting, it creeped up again…to 4.21%…which is higher than the initial budget was proposed at by the Town Staff. (They were proposing 3.3%). To put it into perspective, a 4.21% tax increase would impact an average assessment of $313,701 by $106.81 annually. ~Don’t worry, I will explain how that escalated so quickly in the operation budget talks portion of this post. But before I get there….
Capital Budget Talks
Hallelujah! The Finance Committee has managed to get to a point in Capital Budget talks that the capital budget has been approved by the committee and put forward for Council for final approval. This process was painful, to say the least. There continues to be a lack of understanding from members of council about how this process works. Math and Procedure seem to be 2 lost arts. Mayor Williams spoke up to say “So, can I take it them that this committees direction is to still go ahead with those things (referring to a few capital projects) but take them out of our taxes and increase taxes even more? I mean it’s fine to talk about another $100,000 in road work but if you increase our taxes by another $100,000 to accomplish that, I don’t see us getting anywhere.” Deputy Mayor Maycock spoke up to explain that this is money that must be spent to be compliant “Just to be clear because there was a comment about increasing taxes, we in fact have $76,000 of tax room still left to spend plus some gas tax money. So, we haven’t been increasing taxes during this painful exercise. we have in fact been decreasing them and in fact are hopefully going to do another road project because of this.” And after much talks, managed to get Morgandale put on their list of roads that are in need of repair. Councillor Wilson was advocating to repair some lane ways in Orangeville rather than roads…clearly he hasn’t driven through my neighbourhood as of late! Highland, Morgandale and Newton are PRIORITY roads…so I was very pleased when Deputy Mayor Maycock advocated to have that included in this years capital projects.
The people of First Avenue can also rest easy, because the project that was proposed to repair that street was finally approved as part of this as well.
So, here is hoping that Orangeville Town Council can officially approve the capital portion of this budget and move forward with the much needed infrastructure projects that are in the works for this year….perhaps this is wishful thinking?
Operating Budget Talks
Well this part of the budget did not go nearly as smoothly. The operational portion of this budget leaves me scratching my head. There is so much money that is being spent in so many different areas and departments. Yet, no one seems to want to make a tough decision towards any of them. It appears as though members of council are too scared of what the ramifications of suggesting actual cuts might be. The ramifications to their personal political agendas.
No one wants to suggest closing Tony Rose…that was made clear at the December 8th meeting. And they aren’t even willing to discuss changing Tony Rose to have utilization improve which as a result might have losses reduced…example, turning “B”Rink into a dry land training space that would actually be used.(Council spent big money for this assessment to be done and adopted NOT ONE of their suggestions). No one wants to suggest closing a library – we use well over $1 million every single year to operate 2 libraries. The City of Brampton has 6 libraries for a population of 433,000 people (1 library for every 72,000 people); Orangeville has 2 libraries for a population of 30,000 (1 library for every 15,000 people)….in my humble opinion, someone looking for a ZERO tax increase should be seriously investigating these items. Someone needs to STEP UP! I have said time and time again that an illusion of zero by moving money around from line to line is NOT GOOD ENOUGH!
Noteworthy Items added to the Operational budget
Council was quick to add an additional $60,000 to the budget to cover off additional legal fees. So, we have spent so much in legal fees over the last few years that we need to increase how much we budget for? This is a problem….a big huge problem!! Mayor Williams said “It’s very easy to ask for legal advise on small things and you end up paying a very large bill at the end of the year. So I hope that we can try to make it a practice that we don’t seek litigation to solve our answers. That we try not to choose that very expensive path.” So, I have to ask…how much did it cost to seek legal advice about tobogganing??
The Credit Valley Explorer is seeking an additional $42,000 for enhancements. They want to add another car and do enhancements to the parking lot and the platform. To be clear, the Credit Valley Explorer does NOT generate revenue for the Town of Orangeville directly. What it does do, is bring tourists to the area resulting in more money going into the small businesses, restaurants etc of the Town. This motion passes…
Yet, in the same breath, a motion to provide The Fire Department with a Fire Prevention Officer (That the Chief Andy MacIntosh has been requesting for years) failed. He was requesting $43,000 to fund this position. Recently it has been discovered that the Town is NOT compliant with provincial legislation surrounding fire code inspections of Group Homes. In order to facilitate the compliance, Chief MacIntosh said that we need this position. This is about health and safety…..
This seem to be a favourite word in council chambers. Reserves seems to be the easy solution to borrow from to hit a zero %. It is standard practice in municipalities that they keep reserves equal to approx 60% of their total budget. According to Councillor Bradley, Orangeville currently has just under $6 million in reserves and we should have in the neighbourhood of $24 million in reserves. In my humble opinion, reserves are a necessary part of responsible budgeting, however, there needs to be savings in other areas of the budget in order to support the necessary contribution to the reserves. And again I will reiterate that NOT ONE MEMBER of COUNCIL has stepped up to suggest any tough cuts!!! NOT ONE.
Included as part of the original budget as presented by the Treasurer, there was only a contribution of $400,000 going into reserves. Councillor Wilson has spoken up on numerous occasions to the point that “We are brutalizing our reserves”. Just last year, council spent over $1.4 million of reserve money on infrastructure projects (conveniently in an election year)…contribution to reserves need to replace that!
In 2011, the informal commitment of council was to contribute an additional 1% each year over prior years contribution to reserves. Mr. Parrott said that in 2015, based on past practice and past commitments, $797,000 + $400,000+ an additional $284,000 plus the 1,491,000 also be included in the budget would equal approx $2.9 million. “This is something we should be addressing” Councillor Wilson said “Draining our savings by $2.5 million to meet artificially established budget targets to me is not responsible.”
“You replenish them when times are good, and you draw from them when times are bad” Said Mayor Williams. “When times are a little bit tight, that’s not the time to be building them up.”
Councillor Bradley spoke for the reserves by saying “Between the months of January to April/May, the Town has to borrow millions of dollars to keep the lights on because we don’t have enough money in reserves to keep the lights on until the tax money comes in. That’s the equivalent of you or I going to Money Mart on Monday to borrow against our pay check on Friday so we can continue to feed our kids all week. That’s how we are operating. If we had that 60% of operating expenses in a reserve, we wouldn’t have to go to the bank, borrow money and spend money on interest, which we are doing.”
Councillor Wilson makes a motion at this point to add the $797,115+$284,140 to the reserves.
Mayor Williams, Councillor Garisto and Councillor Kidd all spoke out that they would not support this motion.
At this point things got heated…
“This budget process has been extremely difficult. Most of us around this table did not campaign on a zero % increase in the taxes. The Mayor did at the last minute and Councillor Garisto jumped on that towards the end of the campaign. I would have expected the Mayor and Councillor Garisto to come with us with a plan. A promise was made…a zero %. I would have expected that they would have come to us and said we promise zero and this is how we are going to get there…boom, boom, boom” Councillor Bradley said “All that we saw is that it was expected that council and staff were going to fulfill that promise made by the Mayor and Councillor Garisto. We could do zero, we could give money back. We could deplete all reserves and give everybody a check…but that is not financially responsible. That is not how you run a government.” “We are a divisive council, because we don’t have a cohesive plan for what this council wants to do.”
The temperature in Council Chambers rose a few degrees with Mayor Williams response to Councillor Bradley “Oh if you haven’t seen anything, it’s because you haven’t been paying attention. Theres many times that I have suggested cuts, nobody wants to cut them. Just last meeting, I proposed a line item that would have removed the $178k and gotten us to a zero. Don’t portray it like that.” He continued on to say, “Don’t put it on me – I’ve made suggestions all the way through. The last items, I didn’t vote for those. Other people voted for them.”
Councillor Garisto also jumped in at this point to defend his proposal on how to get to zero (as a reminder, that was also using reserve money…)
Vote called, Motion passes with Councillors Wilson, Bradley, Campbell and Deputy Mayor Maycock voting for….Mayor Williams, and Councillors Kidd and Garisto voting against.
The term “fiscally responsible” is used quite liberally during elections…and yet, at these budget meetings (and I have now attended MANY), I can now quite confidently say that there is no fiscal responsibility present amongst our current council. It is great to use the ‘Catch Phrase’ during a campaign, but if you don’t have any of the skills required to actually BE fiscally responsible, then we have an issue. For those who want to build up reserves, kudos to you…however, where are your responsible spending practices??? We can’t have it all…that is NOT fiscally responsible. To the other half of the room who wants a zero% budget increase…kudos to you too, but what are you proposing we cut?? Again, we can’t have it all. Spending from reserves to fulfill a campaign promise is NOT fiscally responsible.
So where is the happy medium? How do we build reserves responsibly and still land at zero? Can it be done? I absolutely believe it can. Just a few examples how are listed above and yet no one has dared broach them. The topics of Rec services or libraries are hot topics and could easily be money savers. And why has no one broached the subject of Town tenders? I know for a fact that people putting in tenders for the Town are told flat out to increase their tender proposal, that the Town will pay more.
Don’t go into full-on panic mode yet. The operating budget talks are not done yet. There is still time for someone to STEP UP and propose a cut! Guess we shall see at the next council meeting on Monday, March 9th, 2015 @ 7pm.