Rhino's Ramblings: Tentative Tax Increase of 5.01%
What is that you just read in the headline? Are our taxes going up 5.01%? NO, THEY ARE NOT! This is simply the tentative amount agreed upon after two full days of budget deliberations.
When the proposed budget was introduced in Council, by Administration, the proposed increase was 4.05%, with the caveat that each department would have it's initiatives from their business plans presented at budget.
What this means, is, this Administration presented a status quo budget at the Council meeting and then gave reasons why they needed funds for new initiatives. Now, are these new initiatives just wish lists? And if they are, can we afford them?
Take a look at the initiative from the City Clerks/Solicitor Department.
What they asked for was $80,000 to hire people to manually sort through what is, quite literally, a mountain of documents stored, or is it hidden, in City Hall’s basement?
Many of these records are things they are legally required to keep: like all original Council minutes dating back to the days from the 1880’s, such as minutes from the then Town of Moose Jaw.
Other things they are not certain of, are whether or not they need to retain original prints of contracts and if, legally, they can just dispose of the originals after scanning them.
While other things mentioned to be still in their possession, and I am guessing legally permitted to be throw into the recycle bin are documents such as a letter announcing the schedule of the Saskatchewan Roughriders from the 1950’s. Believe it or not, that document was found in a recent search by department staff looking for something else.
So how did this all happen?
Council was told that the Clerk’s office from decades ago, perhaps people long dead, just kept accumulating records and had never before had a plan to deal with it. So they need to hire people to sift through all of the documents and either retain, scan or simply dispose of them. It is slow and tedious work that has been put off until now. as documents were simply carted off to basement and left to collect dust. It is quite truthfully a case of "out of sight, out of mind". A ticking time bomb of notes, records and documents left behind for the next guy to worry about.
Well, it has come to the point where it is slowing down the work of the entire department, who are now spending far too much time trying to figure out what they are looking for. Fortunately, they have digitized all the records over the last few years, meaning they aren't adding anything more too the paper problem. But can you guess what that has done?
The City now has 1,000,000 digital records with the Clerk/City Solicitor’s department alone holding 100,000. But here is the ironic part, the optimal amount for the Clerk\City Solicitor Department was said to be 6,000, so somebody is going to have to start evaluating digital records and deleting what is no longer necessary.
As the departments started listing things in what some might call a “wish list”, I am wondering how much has been put off and how much is just not needed?
Take a look at the Serpentine at Crescent Park, that, has developed into a foul smelling eyesore for many. You would think it would be easy. Stop the water flow, get out the equiptment and dredge it out. But, sadly it's not. In order to stop the water flow you would need to fix things that have been put off for, you guessed it, decades.
So now when people complain, and say it's a relatively easy job, let us just say it's not nearly as easy as they would have you believe.
Another one was the High Street water reservoir. A detailed engineering study showed it needs massive repairs to the point where it makes more sense to just replace it completely, at a cost of $10,000,000. The thing about this pump station is that it supplies 60% of the water to the City. If it goes down, Council was told by the people who make sure it runs, they could not keep up with water demand. Then they would have to resort to things like evacuating the hospital and shutting down the refinery.
So as each department presents their lists of initiatives above and beyond the status quo, the Finance Department keeps a rolling total. And in two days time it has reached the equivalent of a 5.01% tax increase.
Now does that mean we will see a 5.01% tax increase?
At the end of it all, Council will go through it and decide if they are satisfied with what they have. They can add or delete things if they choose, or decide what sort of level of repair or replacement to do. And then the entire budget needs to come to Council, where it must be voted on, at which time the seven individuals making the final decision – Council – can change their minds and decide, then, what they can politically live with or what residents can sustain.
As I sat through it all, I was forced to contemplate this mess we seem to be in, It must have been poor priorities and maybe even pet projects which stole funds from what our representatives needed to do in the first place.
Here's hoping Council, this time gets it right, and the majority today fix the mess the majority in the past left them.