The 2013 budget has now been tabled with city council and their administration held a public meeting on Dec. 12 to give the citizens of Brandon a brief overview of this planning document.
I attended that meeting and we were provided with some valuable information in helping us determine what’s in it and how it will impact us. While the proposed tax increase of two per cent does not seem terribly unreasonable, some of the detail and indeed, some omissions cause concern.
At the meeting I had asked for an explanation of the 11.6 per cent increase in police salaries and got what I believed to be a partial answer. A followup meeting with the city manager and two senior directors provided additional detail. After factoring out the additional staff to be hired and the non-salary costs such as a hike in pension premiums, more than half of the total increase is an increase to the existing staff’s pay packages in either annual increments, possible negotiated wage increases or shift premiums charges.
Apparently, when the two per cent wage increase for this group was approved last year in January, the city committed to a more substantial increase for 2013 to bring the police service members more in line with several “comparable” Alberta and Saskatchewan cities. I do not believe this commitment was ever mentioned when the 2012 labour deal went to city council.
Rich labour deals are appearing with some regularity with this council and administration. The significant management increases of 2011 helped to drive the 2012 budget to percentage increase levels not seen in decades and that coupled with in excess of 20 new positions over the last two years added to our tax burden. While the city manager talked about labour cost mitigation strategies at the meeting, the actions of the city seem to be in the opposite direction. More staff and paying wage levels that exist in two booming provinces don’t sound like mitigation strategies to me.
Several large items are not included in the proposed two per cent property tax increase and if simply added will drive the budget up substantially. The recent approval of more than $1 million for the Keystone Centre is not in the two per cent nor is the Keystone request made informally at the budget meeting. The former Convergys building renovations for administration offices and/or a youth centre are not included as well. I also do not believe the balance of the work to demolish and clean up the Ninth Street and Princess Avenue site is included.
City council will be meeting on Jan. 11 and 12 to debate the 2013 budget. Last year’s reconsideration of the proposed excessive 2012 budget simply reduced the tax increase suffered by the vast majority of residential property owners from plus or minus 20 per cent to plus or minus 10 per cent. Given the fact inflation has been less than two per cent each of the past two years, it would seem any increase in 2013 would be too much.
I would encourage all taxpayers to contact their councillor now to insist on two things. First, they must end the unaffordable practice of negotiating and/or approving wage increases for any group at double, triple and even quadruple what inflation is. If we are going to contemplate using other cities to compare with, we should consider not only the employee pay rates but also the incomes of the people who have to pay the funding taxes.
Secondly, tell your councillor that any add-ons to the proposed 2013 budget (the ones mentioned above or any other) should be funded by at least an equal reduction of other expenses. You need to contact them now — before they sit to debate the budget. We want them to get the message early so we don’t have a repeat of last year.
Best wishes to all Brandonites in the holiday season.