Some observations on our new Council and our new Financial Plan

Ron Bolin: Dec. 14, 2011

It seems that our new and self-proclaimed transparent Council got off on a shaky footing when they met for their first meeting on Monday, Dec. 12.  The old Council ended their term with an in-camera meeting to instigate an injunction against the Occupiers in Diana Krall Plaza.  (Why such a move should be made in-camera is beyond me.  It’s not as if this action had not been widely touted.)  Our new Council began their tenure with an already moved, seconded (and apparently approved) motion to go in-camera that was already reported as such in the agenda!!  Talk about fast action.  In this case it appeared to precede even the meeting.

It will be instructive to see how transparent our new Council will be.  Most, if not all of them, promoted transparency in their runs for office and some even promised to quickly review and reveal the secrets of several of the in-camera decisions of their predecessors, with particular emphasis on the Jerry Berry affair which is apparently now out of covenant in any event, and the case of the City Hall Annex.  These first few weeks should set the tone in transparency for the next three years.

In the meantime, Monday’s FPCOW (Finance and Policy Committee of the Whole –the OTHER public Council meeting) meeting gave our brand new Council a preliminary presentation of the 1012-2016 Financial Plan for the City.  This plan increases residential rates by 4%, commercial rates by 3% and lowers Industrial rates by 20%, and raises water user rates by 5% and Garbage rates by 6.14%.  At that meeting questions were raised about several general budget matters which deserve attention.

First among these was the role that Council played in setting the preliminary Department budgets on which the Financial Plan was based.  It appears that Council gave no advice in this matter though it was open to them to request specific parameters, such as: a zero based budget; a zero increase in the budget; an x% increase or decrease in the budget, etc.  This ability is perhaps greater in this year than in most as we are currently in negotiation with our major unions.  In addition, the study which was undertaken on contracted services which amount to tens of millions of annual expenditures in the City and which was to be completed prior to the recent election has yet to appear.

While the presentation pointed to some $81.4 million in Major Capital Projects related to Water during this period and a further $23.9 million in Ongoing Programs related to Water, a question elicited the response that the City’s policy of not providing water to agencies outside the City has been overturned by an agreement on “emergency” water for Lantzville and that there has apparently been no policy development in dealing with the supply of water to the cruise ship industry or directly to Lantzville, both of which have apparently been requested and run up the flagpole by our mayor.  It should be further noted that the above figures do not include the circa $75 million which is proposed for a new dam in the next decade.  A policy in this area is urgently required as new requests from other of our regional neighbours can be expected to follow, particularly if either or both of these requests are granted.