As we move into February and hopefully some more moderate weather, we should see things heat up in Council Chambers, as budget deliberations continue. Council and staff will be working late hours to bring forward a budget that will have to address many of the outstanding projects that are on the radar. Those will include Cassellholme, West Ferris Arena, and Kings Landing to mention a few of the big -ticket items. These projects are just a few of many of the Capital infrastructure projects that are required to replace and upgrade our City. The challenge no doubt will be to balance each one of these and bring forth a reasonable budget at the end of the process.
This year’s budget starting point at almost eight percent, as identified last month by the Budget Chief, has sparked substantial discussion at Council and in the coffee shops as to what will be an acceptable number for this year’s increase. Service delivery and enhancements to operating budgets will be debated and prioritized, with an eventual number which the majority of Council, will agree on. There will be substantial interest in the discussion surrounding use of surpluses and reserves to reduce the proposed increases and it is the writer’s hope, that Council does not go down that road.
The temptation of utilizing these sources of funds is always there, however the long-term consequences of this type of strategy is substantial and it is only a band aid for Councils who want to pass “popular” budgets. The real questions come down to the basic level of services. The Municipality, and it does not matter where they are located, are providers of serv ices. From water and sewer, transit, arenas, snow plowing and many other Provincially mandated ancillary services, these are the items that make up the majority of what they do, day in and day out. What level of service is acceptable for their residents and businesses, is the real issue and not necessarily a popular one.
Over the past few decades, both mandated municipal services together with the many “soft services” that have become part of our everyday life, have increased in cost and usually, the level of services have increased as well. For many residents, these services are expected and as well, not never enough. The discussions around these expected service levels are always difficult and if cuts are proposed, they are usually met with a flurry of public outcry and rationale, as to why they shouldn’t be axed. Tough questions and solutions are going to be the order of the day and we will await whether these decisions will be popular or practical.
Peter Chirico is the President & CEO of the North Bay & District Chamber of Commerce.