Mistaken Vote and Little Changed Budget
It was a case of oops I didn’t realize what I was voting for and sorry but in the end it didn’t make a difference as a report on the effects of an eight percent across the board cut on expenditures will still be prepared for Budget Committee.
“I did vote in favour of Councillor (Brian) Swanson's motion and in hindsight,” Councillor Heather Eby explained, adding “(I) did not understand (what I voted for).”
“I felt that I had not thought out that vote properly and did think there is some savings to be found,” Councillor Eby stated.
The third term Council member would go on to explain the reason why she had mistakenly voted going on to apologize to the staff for any stress her voting caused them worrying about cuts.
“If we are going to take an eight percent reduction I cannot support that. By doing a lower tax increase or cutting projects…part of how we got into the infrastructure deficit we're in,” Councillor Eby stated.
Councillor Crystal Froese expressed her opposition to the motion.
“The report speaks to a blanket reduction,” Councillor Froese stated, adding “I thought we were on track when we approached things based upon priorities.”
“My job is to make the tough decisions and have a conversation with my Administration...operations is not a dirty word.”
“Our responsibilities is to find more efficiencies. You can’t do that if you don’t have the strengths for communications with your Administration...there is not two Parties here.”
She said there was the opportunity to change the adversarial role often seen between Council and Administration but using a blanket percentage would not accomplish that.
Councillor Swanson stated his motion was looking for Administration to prepare options.
Councillor Swanson stated part of his job was getting a feel for “the realities of the Moose Jaw economy” and how the City was harming it.
“The last place it’s ( Moose Jaw's economy) understood is in this building.”
He went on to question if the new Priority Based Budgeting was any better because it was just a couple of Council members at a Strategic Planning Session who said they could live with a four percent property tax increase.
“It wasn’t Council’s direction...it was a survey.”
Swanson said the new Priority Based Budgeting was “laughable that this represents some new paradyme we are going to be spending within our means.”
Councillor Dawn Luhning said she still supported the motion.
“I don’t believe there is there is anything wrong with exploring both sides of the issue,” Councillor Luhning said.
“How much money have we wasted over the years with overlap?” she asked, pointing to the antiquated recipe card system for work requests as an example.
“There are efficiencies we can probably find.”
“The motion passed we want to see some cuts at eight percent...as councillors it is what we are suppose to do.”
Councillor Scott McMann expressed his dissatisfaction with the new budget process.
“I’m also very frustrated in the Budget process this year,” Councillor McMann stated, adding “I have sat through (many meetings on) Priority Based budgeting and I haven’t seen any difference.”
He said he supported preparing the report because of his financial industry experience.
“I’m from an industry where you need to look at worse case scenarios.”
Finding efficiencies was frustrating he said but “we need to spend the money wiser.”
“People are very conscious of further tax increases...we need to insure we are spending effectively and efficiently,” Councillor McCann concluded.
Councillor Chris Warren stated he agreed the new Budgeting system had not lived up to what he thought it would be.
“I personally don’t feel many advancements from the old budget to the Priority Based budget.”
Council Warren said although he ran to help see capital projects completed he wondered if it was too aggressive of a program.
“I don’t believe our current five year (Capital) plans are sustainable...I feel we should be looking at Capital expenditures too...to think we can afford a $240 million five year plan I think is impossible.”
Councillor Warren wondered if the City could not get by on $200 million and then the talked about Waterworks Levy (by converting the Hospital Level) would not be necessary.
“Is it necessary? You bet. But can we afford it though?” he asked.
Councillor Swanson re-entered the debate stating the Capital works were being done with massive amounts of borrowing $30 million in 2018 and $40 million in 2019 of which the City did not know where they will find $18 million this year alone.
“It is my belief we have to double our cast iron replacement budget,” he stated adding not directed into “entitlements” such as the Airport Authority.
“Leadership in Moose Jaw is what sacrifices we can make to ensure the long term survivability of this community.”
Mayor Frasier Tolmie said there needed to be a different attitude of just saying the City was simply taxing the same people but were also proactive in attracting a larger tax base.
“What we are doing we are providing a service to them. If you decide to make cuts you take away those services,” Mayor Tolmie stated.
“We are making great efforts to change that (increase the tax base). We are actively engaging outside businesses and corporations...status quo has remained the same. We have waited for people to come to the rescue...nobody is out there beating the drums.”
“We are going to see some good things coming to our community in the next couple of months.”
Mayor Tolmie stated services are not free and they cost money. And when cuts have been made there is push back such as curb side collection and now residents about certain outdoor rinks not being flooded.
“The budget system is not exactly what we hoped for,” the Mayor said adding what Budget Committee was seven people with seven different expectations and it was “not fair to Administration.”
“We have to have realistic expectations here.”
In the end no vote was taken to rescind the motion so by January 15th a report will be prepared.
The report will provide options for Council and does not necessarily mean there will be any cuts.