City treasurer Dean Hammond speaks to the audience during a pre-budget public forum at Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School
on Wednesday evening. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Infrastructure seemed to be on the minds of many as the City of Brandon hosted its pre-budget public discussion on Wednesday night.
Roughly 30 people came out to the two-hour forum at Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School, a number that disappointed Mayor Shari Decter Hirst.
"It would be great if we had more people because certainly the folks that are here have an incredible opportunity to talk one-on-one with senior administration and city council … about what are the things in the city that they value … and what are the things, frankly, that we can live without?" she said.
Those in attendance were split into three groups to discuss their priorities with city councillors and administration as the city puts together the 2014 budget.
One woman said infrastructure should be a top priority for the city, as well as removing the "road blocks" for companies that are ready to develop.
Another person said airport upgrades should be done as soon as possible so the city doesn’t lose WestJet.
One resident spoke about her own flooded basement, and wanted to see the city to make infrastructure a top priority. She said she was disheartened to see the city will be providing $2 million for the Keystone Centre roof repairs when countless homes were affected by flooding this year.
City treasurer Dean Hammond made a presentation to the group, which included information on what the 2013 budget consisted of, to provide some context for the 2014 budget.
Last year, the average municipal tax bill was roughly $1,733. Hammond showed a slide that broke down where that money went.
About $600 went to protective services, roughly $460 to infrastructure, $189 to support services, $172 to recreation/parks, $114 to transit, $100 to sanitation/environment and $96 to economic development/affordable housing.
Some of the 2014 constraints include inflationary pressures on labour, construction costs and heavy equipment, decreases in provincial funding, a one per cent PST increase and utility increases.
"This is the public’s opportunity to come out and learn a bit about some of the challenges we’re facing as we put our budget together," Hammond said.
In addition to asking the public for their priorities, they were also asked if they want more of something, or if they are willing to give up something else?
"The analogy I use is that the pie is only so big, we can only split the pie so many ways, how would you like it split?" Hammond said.
As far as budget "helps," there are approximately three per cent more properties paying taxes this year. Hammond called it a "double-edged sword" because now the city has three per cent more city to service.
Potential new items in the 2014 include the Keystone roof repairs, airport upgrades, Sunday bus service and an affordable housing specialist.
"Affordable housing falls under Sandy Trudel, under economic development. She can’t juggle both, so if we’re going to be serious about affordable housing, we need more resources to do that," Hammond said, adding it’s up to council to decide whether it wants to add the new position.
The information received from the public will be considered as the city prepares its 2014 budget. Hammond said a proposed budget will be rolled out mid-November, which would be followed by a public open house in December.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 26, 2013