After last year’s taxpayer uprising over the city budget, city councillors got the message, says Coun. Murray Blight (Victoria).
There will be more opportunities for public input into the 2013 city budget — this time around, taxpayers are invited to show up at a roundtable discussion about the upcoming budget on Thursday, Nov. 22.
"We have issues to address. Eighth Street bridge. Where does that money come from? We still have negotiations with police and fire. If it goes over and above two per cent, where does that money come from? And where is the infrastructure money (for the city’s plan to develop the Black Farm land)? We really have to do some soul searching to come up with the answers," Blight said.
The roundtable meeting will take place between 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. in the École New Era School gymnasium, located at 527 Louise Ave. The format will allow taxpayers to tell Brandon city councillors how they want their money spent and for what priorities. This also gives councillors feedback prior to the annual budget deliberations that will take place in January.
"We’ll be able to explain some of our needs and maybe there will be other things identified and put into priorities, but the question is, we’ve still got to come up with the money," Blight said.
Coun. Jan Chaboyer said the new form of public consultation is required after last year and taxpayers demanded more public input into the budget process at various ward meetings hosted by councillors.
"There’s a common thread through those ward meetings, that citizens want to be heard for this year’s budget deliberations," Chaboyer said. "They said they would love it if it were in the form of an informal roundtable discussion and that we take those recommendations forward to be considered when we start our deliberations in January."
Last year, official budget deliberations by city council in the council chamber were done mid-December, after a public presentation made by city staff in November.
Chaboyer said this year’s roundtable would take place before any public numbers are released, but that city treasurer Dean Hammond would provide an overview.
"We have asked him to talk about a few of the challenges we face and what’s coming up and it will be more so on priorities," Chaboyer said.
"Some of those will be long term and critical issues to deal with in Brandon, for example, redeveloping the Black property."
Coun. Shawn Berry (Linden Lanes) said councillors are going to be more cautious this time after the 2012 budget needed many public rounds of discussion and plenty more that took place behind closed doors.
"Nobody wants to see a repeat of what happened last year," Berry said. "We are going to be sure that doesn’t happen this year and will put forward a budget that’s fair and one that’s needed going forward. Every one of us learned our lessons from last year’s budget about things to do, things not to do and we are asking questions."
Blight said a minimal tax increase every year is preferable to a series of zero per cent budgets followed by one large increase over one year.
"That’s part of doing business and if we want to see the city progress, then that’s exactly what we have to do," Blight said. "Everybody contributes, everybody participates and through due diligence, we move forward."
Berry said a small tax increase that offers residents and taxpayer tangible benefits, such as better roads, better sidewalks or better infrastructure, could be accepted by the public.
"I’m not opposed to doing (a tax increase) in the 1.5 per cent, two per cent range if we see a benefit to the city’s services, but really for no other reason," Berry said.
Chaboyer said her constituents have called for, "no increase or a very small one."
"Two or three per cent, they could live with that, based on what I have heard from them," Chaboyer said.