Infrastructure, affordable housing and recreational needs were some of the recurring topics at the city’s public budget roundtable evening Thursday.
More than 30 people attended the consultation at École New Era School, in addition to Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, city councillors and city administration.
"We wanted to get people’s advice and guidance at the front end, so that we had it in our heads going into the budgeting process," Decter Hirst said. "We got great feedback last year, but it was at the wrong end."
Those in attendance broke off into five roundtable groups, which were led by city council members.
Brandon resident Bob Janz came to voice his concern about increasing property taxes.
"When I bought new in the south end five years ago, my property tax was just over $1,600," he said. "This year, it’s over $5,100. That’s why I’m concerned … I understand council and the mayor have got a lot of problems to deal with, and I’m sympathetic, but … we can’t push people out of their homes by just doing too much of a property tax."
Lt.-Col. John Schneiderbanger, former CFB Shilo base commander, said after getting involved with the budget process last year, he felt compelled to voice his opinion and perhaps provide some advice.
"I ran a very large organization, it was a $30-million-plus operation there and it’s like running a small city in all honesty, so I thought my experience might come in handy," he said.
As a resident of Brandon, Schneiderbanger said he wants to make sure taxpayers’ money is being spent appropriately.
The point he wanted to stress Thursday night was that an in-depth review of the operating budget needs to be done to make sure that the numbers aren’t just "status quo" every year.
"That we hold city administration to task and make sure that they explain those numbers and don’t just present big numbers to the council, but explain them with supporting evidence," he said. "Because there are some internal savings to our budget I have no doubt about it, and they can be placed towards priorities such as infrastructure."
On the housing topic, one suggestion was that Maple Leaf Foods should be building housing for the number of workers they bring in. Others suggested that economic development should be more of a priority, trying to bring in more bigger employers so more jobs are available. Repairing the Eighth Street bridge is also a priority for many people.
The city’s 2012 operating budget was $70 million, while the utilities budget was $18 million.
City treasurer Dean Hammond outlined some of 2013’s budget "helps" and "hurts."
Some of the "helps" include a retired debt on the waste water treatment plant, increased revenues at Wheat City Golf Course, four funded firefighters and a three per cent goal in operations efficiencies.
"Hurts" include the new police station payment, collective agreements, pension fund adjustment, PST on insurance and 2.5 per cent Manitoba Hydro increase.
Decter Hirst said the discussion was valuable, and let city council hear the conversations happening around many kitchen tables in Brandon.
"We heard a lot about infrastructure, both new costs and new developments as well as repair of existing infrastructure, we did talk about housing, we also talked about affordable recreation and how important that was ... making sure that our families had a stable community to raise their children in," Decter Hirst said.
"Councillors will now have all that advice and guidance in their heads as we go into our budget deliberations."
The next public budget forum will take place Dec. 12 at city hall.