Budget deliberations the last three years have been relatively civil in nature and completed in timely fashion.
With a preliminary tax hike of 5.9% in the balance for 2014, matters are likely to get heated, if not downright ugly, on Monday as members of council — painfully aware the municipal vote looms in October — whittle that number down to the 3% range before calling it an evening.
That’s going to take some resolve as council is faced with several ‘no-touch’ items that account for a considerable hit to the municipal property tax rate.
Land ambulance costs will rise $400,000 this year; policing at the new consolidated courthouse will add about $450,000; and then there’s the promised grant of $350,000 to the hospital revitalization fund — part of a 10-year $3.5 million pledge.
There’s more than a million big ones right off the bat.
And, don’t forget back in December council approved adoption of a long-term asset management plan — to deal with a whopping infrastructure deficit — and voted to include the plan in the budget to ensure sufficient capital reserves are available to fund the plan.
Treasurer Bill Day recommended a financial strategy calling for a 3.83% annual increase in the property tax levy over a 20-year period. That 3.83% increase in the property tax levy would include capital spending plus “the best guess” on operating budget increases.
Does that guesstimation take into account the million-plus dollars eaten up by the Big 3 listed previously?
If not, expect council to start whittling away at that asset management plan.
And, start dipping into reserves to ease the burden on ratepayers.
But here’s a thought.
Why is the city getting into the waste management business? An expenditure of $1.5 million to build a super-duper transfer station when we’ve got the Bush Line transfer station just sitting there.
You know the one, owned by Bob McCaig and used by BFI Canada before they were dropped as the city’s waste contractor.
Don’t you think Bob would love to cut a deal with the city for use of the transfer station that served the city well for years?
That’s why we called him Thursday in Vancouver.
“I thought the city would just lease the transfer station and carry on,” Bob advised.
After all, he still holds the certificate to operate the facility.
“Perhaps the city needs more employees,” suggested Bob.
He would happily partner with the city to work out an arrangement for the transfer station which, of course, would need some upgrades and safety issues addressed.
No problem at all, he assured. “They have my number, and the cost wouldn’t be very high. We could have worked out a 20-year agreement.”
Bob is talking $5,000 a month for the city to “get into free enterprise and get their toe wet. They don’t have to pay $800,000 to play I want to run a transfer station.”
And, the city would still keep all the money from selling the recyclables.
“I seemed to make it work,” chuckled Bob.
So, if the city wants to bring the 2014 budget back down from nosebleed heights, how about starting with its proposed $1.5 million new transfer station and tossing those plans in the dump.
WHO MAKES WHAT
The arrival of spring also heralds release of the public sector salary disclosure – better known as the Sunshine Club — those public sector employees who earn more than $100,000 a year.
The full list was made available on Friday and here are some of the highlights.
We ran down the city hall membership list earlier this month, but a recap is in order.
A total of 62 city employees earned $100,000 or more in 2013, up from 58 in 2012.
Breaking the numbers down, in 2013 city administration counted 14 in the Sunshine Club, up from 13 the year previous.
The police department enrolment actually declined by one — from 17 to 16.
At the fire halls, the ranks increased to 32 in 2013 from 28 in 2012.
CAO Wendell Graves at $165,900 topped the list last year, down from a year ago at $166,315.
Police chief Darryl Pinnell earned $149,825.44, while fire chief Rob Broadbent collected $130,494.39.
Over at the county, CAO Mark McDonald earned $181,981.94 and director of finance Jim Bundschuh last year earned $130,615.83.
In the health sector, Cynthia St. John, executive director of Elgin St. Thomas Public Health earned $143,188.50.
At St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital, CEO Paul Collins collected $205,569.00, however he was overshadowed by Nancy Whitmore, Vice-President Medical Professional Staff. who earned $230,499.88 and departed CFO Malcolm Hopkins, who took home $208,950.64.
Rod Potgieter, executive director of Family & Children Services of St. Thomas & Elgin earned $150,551.45 in 2013.
If you’ve got the time and inclination to plow through hundreds of pages of pdf or html files — the province doesn’t make disclosure easy for interested individuals — you can pass away the hours right here.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“I know a lot of municipalities, when they’re facing the same tough budgets that we’re facing this year, they’ve made that decision that they just can’t do it.”
St. Thomas Mayor Heather Jackson on whether the city should continue to hand out grants to community groups.
City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow @ianscityscope