Monday, March 3, 2014

The Art & Science of Budgeting ...

 It’s that time of year again where the City prepares it’s Budget for the year ahead along with an update to the five year plan. To say that the numbers of capital projects on the horizon are “significant” would be an understatement. The projects are not only numerous, they are needed. A city that ignores the upgrading of its infrastructure and planning for future growth does so at its own peril. This is the proverbial kicking of the can down the road for other future governments to address. At the municipal level, raising taxes is the primary way (in most cases the only way) that municipalities can raise additional revenues to fund those upgrades which are the sole responsibility of local government. Think projects like sewers, sidewalks, non-provincial or non-federal roads and of course utility bridges  At the small community level, airports, libraries and museums are no exception to this mounting list of priorities. These projects are never inexpensive and with increasing safety and environmental regulations – their construction costs continue to rise. Doing projects today will almost always be less expensive overall than doing them in the future. Coupled with increasing demands for public services, many downloaded from higher levels of government the decisions as to what gets funded become even more critical to the sustainability of small municipalities. The simple fact is that if the City does not do them – they won’t get done. 

There are of course other creative ways of raising revenues and reducing expenses. Unique partnerships such as the agreement the City of Trail is pursuing with Teck which will bring $225,000.00 a year for 20 years (indexed for inflation) into the community for economic development. Projects like the replacement of our street lights to LED over the next ten years will save the City hundreds of thousands in operating costs over their lifetime. Grants, private investment partnerships and sales of renewable assets can also add to the available pool of resources. While these initiatives are creative and forward looking, the gains only amount to a small portion of the City’s annual operating budget and the funding sources are typically not constant. Strategic partnerships with other municipalities to share the costs of major services can also bring additional revenue. These agreements are increasingly more difficult to maintain, given the increasing costs of services and the leveraged affect this has on smaller governments with lesser tax bases.This brings us back to the subject of property taxes, which are the primary way your City’s operations are funded.

A mandate of renewal and growth is not inexpensive but the long term cost of stagnation is far greater, not only in monetary terms but it can also be measured in increased risk, dashed hopes of our citizenry and eroding community pride. Those tough decisions of course belong to the politicians and each year they get more difficult. Great ideas are inexpensive, funding them is not. What is required however is the political will to make tough decisions even when it is both unpopular and necessary to maintain a progressive and balanced approach. That is why I will be supporting and seeking a property tax increase this year of 3.25%. While I am by no means a believer in wanton tax and spend policies that cannot be linked to strategic objectives, I do believe wholeheartedly in community investment that can demonstrably add value to the lives of our citizens. I also believe this is a reasonable figure that allows for a growth and renewal focused agenda, while still keeping our rates in line with other area municipalities and still lower than most governments  our size across the province. The City of Trail must adopt its budget plan by May 15th. Once Council has finished our budget deliberations a public presentation will be made to advise the community of our plans. If you cannot attend the presentation, I encourage all citizens (at your convenience) to take the time to review the budget summary that will be posted on our recently renewed website after the presentation. Look at the priorities we have identified and let us know what you think. I look forward to your feedback in the weeks and months ahead.

Sincerely,

Kevin Jolly

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