What a difference a year makes. Here we sit staring down the barrel of what many would consider a very palpable increase doled out by city council after a marathon budgeting session, the same councillors who are now a year removed from the near sit-in protests following their previous budget attempt while at the helm of the community.
I struggled whether to use my column this week to share and lament the losses to Renaissance Brandon, a recipient of some of the cuts in this budget year. Would this be either necessary or beneficial to tackle this topic? Renaissance Brandon is an organization I take great pride in and I personally felt the rationale behind the decision to cut 20 per cent of our operating budget was a bit misguided. But this may not be the best time, so for today, I will leave it at that.
On a larger scale though, what does this budget mean to the city? Can council remain on path with its Roadmap for Growth after some of the decisions made this time around?
First off, as we know, the decisions lead us to a tax bottom line that is a manageable number for most. It keeps affordability within range for an average household, which is commendable.
My fear though, is that parts of the budget deviate too far from the platform delivered by council through its Roadmap plan. The platform and the pillars held within that plan allow for the framework under which all decisions of council are vetted against. Like platforms at higher levels of government, it allows for the future of the city, province or country to be known on a much larger scale, spread out over time.
With that being said, my budgetary concerns are not all doom and gloom as there were some definite hits within this budget that align well with the Roadmap. Increased dollars towards affordable housing reserves, a further $500,000 added to infrastructure to match up with the $500,000 already allocated from the previous budget and recreational opportunities for youth via working a new youth centre into the city process. All these seem to align well with the overall plan although I’m sure the dollar figures attached to the changes did not come without their share of challenges.
The changes I become wary of though are allocation of funds, or lack thereof, to some of the more singular projects. From an operational side, reductions come from snow clearing, operating reserves and information technology within the city and of course urban neighbourhood renewal through Renaissance Brandon. Two of these reductions neighbourhood renewal and IT, seem to draw away from some of the pillars established in the Roadmap and distance the city from the platform it presented residents of Brandon with shortly after taking office. Further to that, a large reduction in staffing allocation dollars seems to be somewhat of a knee-jerk response to the public outcry from the previous budget. The hope is that the city attracts the best and brightest, and pays them accordingly for the service they provide. If the dollars are not there, it does little to help attract the best of the best to serve in that sector.
It appears as well through the process this council is becoming increasingly divided. This makes for some spirited debate, but in the end will it make it harder to gain ground? I by no means feel anyone should become complacent as this never solves anything, but I hope the end result is the spirited debate, fearing though the latter will continue to be the case. It is counterproductive to a unit that swept in with the ability to be cohesive while taking some real positive steps toward making Brandon a better place through documents and actions like those laid out in the Roadmap for Growth.
Reality is, it takes some time to enact change and I hope the council is not giving up on this plan too soon. There are some talented members around that table and I feel that to stay the course laid out in front of you may be challenging. But the plan is solid and it makes us a progressive growing city both politically and in the eyes of outsiders.
The possibility still exists to right the ship and I hope the motivation for those behind the wheel is good. The waves are getting increasingly choppy and before this term gets out of hand being mindful of sticking to the plan is the key. If this does not happen, we have a situation where many are grabbing to take the wheel and nobody knows where the boat is going, and that is not good for the residents of Brandon.
» Shaun Cameron is a lifelong Brandon resident. He has dabbled in politics and is now chair of Renaissance Brandon, the city’s downtown development corporation. His column appears regularly.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 19, 2013