More on the Budget and Financial Plan

Ron Bolin: Jan 16, 2012

It is worth following up on Brian Fillmore’s comment to my Dec. 14 post.  While Council did indeed eschew a full core review, they did, as a sop, order up a review of the City’s contracted services, i.e. those services performed by private agents on behalf of the City.  As an aside it was also to examine functions now performed by Staff that might be contracted out. This $75,000 dollar study was originally supposed to be done prior to the November election.  It has yet to be accepted; but at a budget presentation on Tuesday, it was stated that a draft might be available today (Friday).  Of course it must be reviewed by Staff and then passed on for comment to the unions before Council can act on its recommendations in the budget.  That is if the time line allows it.  This information came out at the meeting because Councillor Bestwick asked for the status of the report.  This is an important study as contracted services in the City run to some $30-40 million dollars or some 20-25% of the City’s total budget.  It needs to be done in time for serious consideration during this budget cycle and we can only hope that Council will not let this slip through their fingers.

Other areas where cuts might be made include the single position which Staff have recommended for 2012, a City Auditor.  $150,000 has been budgeted in 2012 for this position.  It is interesting to speculate on why this position is being touted as the Province has put forward legislation for a Provincial Municipal Auditor which, I am told, should be in place by mid-year.  Why we are rushing to fill a job which may prove redundant in times when the local economy and its taxpayers are at their limit is not obvious to me?  What do you think.

Another position which was not originally recommended by Staff but which at least one Councillor has raised for further consideration by Council is that of a Communication Officer at $140,000.  To my mind this position is all about spin.  There is plenty of information available from the City if one can find it.  The internet can make all the information available to the public which is public.  And it can make it available in an easily locatable form.  This can provide the facts and nothing but the facts, but without the spin.  I hope we make sure that this one doesn’t arise from the dead.

It is worthy of note that there are seven positions which came pre-approved and thus have not been up for consideration.  These are comprised of five new RCMP Officers and two City liason staff for them which are part of a five year growth plan for the RCMP which was approved a couple of years ago.  While the plan may be sound, I find it difficult to see why at least a cursory review of how this has been working out is not included.  I think we can all see from recent history that looking even one or two years ahead is more a matter of guessing that reasoning.

$1,400,000 is in the 5 year plan for sidewalks; approximately $280,000 per year.  Sidewalks are normally treated as local improvements.  That is they improve a local neighbourhood.  Local improvements typically are undertaken as shared cost projects with the neighbourhoods that desire them and are willing to share the cost.  Questioned about this, the City has responded that, if neighbourhoods had to pay anything, none would be done.  Sounds like a good idea to me.

$3,100,000 is in the five year plan for phase II of the Maffeo Sutton park upgrade which, among other things, is to build a concession stand and rid our parks of those, apparently despised, food wagons.  Granted, following the lukewarm reception of the millions spent on phase I, there is to be a review of the project.  Despite the fact that this money comes from the Port Authority for public works along the waterfront, there should be a broader examination of the possibilities rather that limiting them to Maffeo Sutton, i.e. the budget item should at least be broadened.

These are just a few ideas for examination, with the biggie being the report to come from the review of contracted services.  While we wait for the release of this information we can review the City’s budget and five year plan at:

http://www.nanaimo.ca/EN/main/departments/Finance/budget-financial-reports.html

This page leads to both the general budget and plan information as well as to the Department budget presentations, the first of which took place last Tuesday.  The next set are scheduled for a special meeting of FPCOW (Finance Policy Committee of the Whole) which will be held in the City Hall Board Room at 3pm on Monday, Jan. 16, with another to be held on Tuesday.  The agenda and the departments that will be presenting their budgets can be found at:

http://www.nanaimo.ca/UploadedFilesPath/Site_Structure/Corporate_Services/Corporate_Administration/2012_Committee_Agendas/FPCOW120116A.pdf

Where do you think the City should spend its money?  And where should it save?

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