Parksville council completed their 2012 budget deliberations, raising property taxes three per cent as expected and freezing spending on 40 per cent of the budget.
The draft bylaw has to be presented to council for public feedback and three votes, but mayor and council appear happy, at least with the process if not every tough decision they had to make.
“The process was done very well, they broke everything down to a very basic level,” said Coun. Sue Powell of the new approach staff took to give council a better sense of the big picture.
Each department listed around 200 specific service areas, dividing them into seven prioritized categories from the most urgent down: health and safety, legislated requirements, infrastructure, organizational welfare, protection of private property and community economic and social welfare
For example, the human resources department listed four services under health and safety.
Those include safety audits for $10,328 and health and safety training and development for $24,000. They didn’t list anything under development and maintenance of infrastructure and assets.
The engineering department on the other hand doesn’t have anything under health and safety but has eight items totaling around $700,000 under infrastructure.
Council helped divide the services from 11 departments into the seven prioritized categories. Spending in the four lower priority service levels will be frozen at 2011 levels for the next five years.
“It’s a very constrained budget,” said mayor Chris Burger who called this “one of the toughest budget process I’ve ever been through.”
He spoke of the difficulty balancing resident priorities, pointing out that often the most important expenses, like unseen infrastructure for clean water, get less attention than more decorative services like Christmas lights, which are less important in a health and safety sense.
But, as Burger put it, “we’re in the business of being a place people want to come to,” and esthetic services can be important to the long term success of the city.
He also pointed out “this council has been fiscally conservative for a long time, there’s no more fat to cut. This budget is very constrained but it still allows the city to generate revenue and we’re still maintaining spending levels, we’re not cutting any programs.”
Among the hardest decisions, he said, was turing down two requests for new staff positions, which he said the engineering department made very good arguments for.
Staff wanted a development engineer and a purchasing officer, which could end up saving money in efficiencies in the long term.
Burger admitted council is leaving some big challenges to address in the coming years but “we have to work within the confines we have today.”
In general terms the 2012 budget projects operational expenses of just over $15 million, leaving a balance of $400,000 which will top-up the accumulated surplus up to about $4.2 million to be used for capital projects like road work and the water treatment plant.
The city is currently reviewing its infrastructure needs and expects to have a clearer idea of the long term needs in time to adjust next years budget.
Council has also directed staff to look into increasing user fees for various city services to shift some of the burden off tax payers, but Burger pointed out this could be complex because it ties in with regional partners.
Small spending packages were included for the water and sewer funds which are separate budgets, but there will be no fee increases.