I’ve been reporting recently on the City of Brantford’s attempts to move into its 2013 budget with a “Budget 101″ approach.
This comes out of the mayor’s taxpayers’ bill of rights and the so-called intelligent service delivery review. Both ideas, despite how critics and skeptics may view them as more hot air or a distraction, are worthy of attention.
The city if hoping to lead its ratepayers through a series of conversations about what services if offers, how those services are funded and run. At a critical point in that conversation, people will be asked to tell the city what services they want to pay for and which ones they would rather see the city get out of entirely.
The importance of broad public participation in this process cannot be overemphasized. Come budget time, the typical engagement with the broader public usually falls into one of the following categories:
- My taxes are too high.
- Why am I paying for things I never use?
- Why are you cutting a service that I rely on?
- Can I please have some money?
In the reality of stagnant or next-to-zero growth in taxable assessment and ever-rising costs, this conversation is a needed one. As city treasurer Catherine Brubacher rightly pointed out at a recent meeting, the days of trimming percentages off of every department and business unit’s budgets must come to an end. Having trimmed $5.6 million out of budgets in this fashion over the past five years, there is little left to find using this method.
As of the 2012 budget, council and the city have also depleted all discretionary reserve funds— those pots of money the city keeps for discretionary use are not to be confused with the reserve funds that are mandated by city policy or provincial legislation and regulation (see: Development-charge reserve funds).
If significant savings are going to be found, an all-out discussion in the city needs to take place asking what services must continue (by mandate), which should continue because they’re valued and which should be cut. This can include a conversation on whether any and all of the above could continue but with a drastic change in the level of service.
I have my own thoughts on this based on what I’ve learned elsewhere and as opportunity allows I’ll share them in this space or in print/web through my Wellington Square column.
For those who keep coming back to the barricades over the unsustainable nature of municipal budgeting and taxation, you need to participate in this process. If you don’t, then you really have no one else to blame but yourselves.