During the city’s early deliberations for the 2013 budget last year, the Sun reported that Brandon’s city manager had tasked department heads with a three per cent goal.
The goal went something like this: either find an additional three per cent in new revenues in your department or find a three per cent reduction in expenses.
The aim of the directive, added city treasurer Dean Hammond, was “not to cut expenses, but rather to have a sustainable decrease. Something that’s not just for one year but will live forever.”
What happened? The city held to a modest tax increase, but last December, council approved several new rate hikes for 2013 — everything from hourly ice rental rates and swimming lessons at the Sportsplex to tennis court fees, fees for regular plots at the Brandon Municipal Cemetery and even business licence fees.
As regular readers may have noticed, the city is looking to hike service fees again this year. The city released its proposed 2014 fee schedule last week, which shows increases between 2.5 and four per cent in most areas.
Sportsplex fees went up again, there’s now an airport improvement fee planned, cemetery plot costs increased, and in public works, the city proposed a major increase for repairs to damaged infrastructure, rising by $388 per hour.
That last fee hike is for construction companies that accidentally hit a city water or sewer main.
In a year when the value of most Brandon homes is expected to rise — again — after the province’s reassessment, there really should be little need for the city to go to the taxpayer well again to ask for more.
And yet, that’s exactly what the proposed 2014 budget would do. The city has proposed a tax hike of 2.85 per cent over last year to help fund an operating budget that has increased by $2.9 million to a proposed $75.2 million.
For our money — and yours — we’re seeing far too many fee increases, and not enough reductions to expenses. We say this because, as you can read in the pages of the Sun today, there are many ways that department heads could trim expenses if they put their minds to it. It just may mean fewer perks for employees.
While we believe providing professional development for city employees is important, do we really need to spend $221,383 on conferences next year that typically end up being junket rewards?
One particularly egregious example of conference spending comes out of the information technology department. In 2010, the department spent $143 on conferences. In 2011, the IT department budgeted $14,160 for attending conferences — yet the actual amount it spent for 2011 reached $28,066. Next year, the department proposes to spend $29,284 on conferences.
How is this necessary or justifiable?
And unless there is an absolute need, why are we changing over the city’s arsenal of police vehicles every three years? According to a report from the Winnipeg Sun last February, police cars in Winnipeg typically last four years in the field before they get retired into general service.
And in Alberta, Const. Scott Anthony with the Edmonton police traffic section said police cars in his city have a life span “of about five years.”
Does it stand to reason that Brandon police work would be more damaging to police vehicles than in Winnipeg or Edmonton? Surely these kinds of purchases can be pushed back to match Winnipeg at least.
These are just a few examples of areas where departmental budgets could be cut back a bit, but there are several more. But the political will must also be there to make it happen, and the only way for that to occur is for city residents to take an interest.
The public has one more chance to weigh in on the city’s proposed 2014 budget — next Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the main foyer of city hall. The city treasurer will provide an overview, and then the mayor, city councillors and members of senior administration will host a question-and-answer session.
We know it’s a busy time of year, what with Christmas and New Year’s in the offing. But if you want to provide some input on this budget, now’s your chance. Don’t wait for the next municipal election to make your voice heard.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 7, 2013