Councillor intends to introduction a motion for reform
By Mark Signoretti
I preface my comments by thanking city council and staff for their hard work during this recently completed budget process.
Despite the fact I may not agree all the time with council decisions, I do respect that we are all striving to better our community. That being said, I do have major concerns with how the budget is prepared and, in turn, how council approves it. This is why, once again this year, I voted not to approve the city’s operating budget.
Also, the comments I am about to make are not new, as I have made them during public council and finance meetings over the last few years.
Despite the fact the 2020 municipal budget was just approved a couple of weeks ago, I am already thinking about the 2021 budget process. In fact, I will be presenting a motion in the next few weeks that hopefully will lead to a different approach to how we as a council — the caretaker of the tax dollar — approach the budget process. I whole-heartedly believe in the following principles and notions:
- The budget management prepares is passed too quickly. We do not decipher the huge document during our public finance meetings. A few meetings, a couple of hours long, jammed in at the end of the calendar year, is not enough. We need to go through the huge document page-by-page, line-by-line, even if we start in October and go through until February. In this manner, every request for a tax dollar can be questioned and, hopefully, justified. The city will not shut down Jan. 1 if the budget is not approved, as many taxes are paid with monthly installments, and first-quarter installments can be paid status quo and adjusted later.
- The city budget must be based on public needs and not corporate wants. I question the need for the massive hiring of communications people over the past few years in the communications department, as well as in other departments that have their people. Likewise, I question why we have hired new staff in economic development, bylaw, as well as managers for special projects. Why are we also feeding the want for massive investment in IT when the need was clearly not outlined?
- Why do we ask outside boards, such as the police service, to come back with a slimmed-down operating budget when a motion by me to have our departments do the same was rejected? Each manager at the city must automatically — or can and should — be directed to find efficiencies in their respective departments.
- Over-expenditures in one year should not be automatically tacked on to the next year’s budget. This inflated number, which was not approved in the budget, is then used to add to the tax rate increase. This is wrong, as it has inflated the city budget beyond inflation.
- Drawing on reserves constantly to make up for over-expenditures is a pseudo-fix for spending too much. We must not blow savings that exist to leverage monies from other levels of government, for instance. We are paying expenses for the one year, but not eliminating them; therefore, they will be in the budget for years to come without a way to pay for them, except tax increases.
- When staff comes forward with a request for a special roads levy to be tacked onto the property tax increase they must include a plan for where that money will be spent. I voted no to the special levy because it is not acceptable to have the spending priority for these dollars come to council after the levy is approved. We are still waiting for the list of work that will be funded by this additional tax increase.
Constantly increasing property taxes for wants is not sustainable. Seniors who wish to stay in their homes; those on fixed incomes; landlords; and working people cannot continue having their pockets picked via property tax increases that are higher than inflation. The corporation of the City of Greater Sudbury must expand the number of houses and businesses in our city with population and business growth. By doing so, more people will be paying into the pot, instead of the same number of folks unrealistically being given the burden to support Greater Sudbury on their shoulders.
I, as well as other councillors, have brought up the aforementioned notions, as well as other ideas, during open meetings at council and finance, but this is the time where we must walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.
I am not oblivious to the scrutiny I have been under from some of my colleagues and staff about my stand during budget deliberations. I have always and will continue to advocate for the taxpayer of this great city.
I respect that change is difficult, but I am confident we have the talent around the council table that can result in a real, effective institutional change in the philosophy of how the city budget should be approached. In this regard, I will be asking my fellow councillors to support my request that management begins now on endeavouring to find efficiencies across the corporation, which can be presented during next year’s budget deliberations.
They also need to focus on needs, rather than wants when preparing the budget document. It is time to reboot now.
Mark Signoretti is the Ward 1 councillor for the City of Greater Sudbury.