Budget timeline causes consternation for local councillor

·4 min read

Grey Highlands council has set the schedule and guidelines for the development of the 2023 budget, but one member is not happy with the direction.

At its meeting on June 15, council accepted a report from staff that sets the timeline for the development of the budget for 2023.

Coun. Paul Allen voted against the resolution and said it should be the new council making those decisions.

“I’m not comfortable making a decision that is saying the budget is going to be presented on the first day of the new council with them having no input,” said Allen.

In the timeline, from August to November Grey Highlands will use a number of different methods to gather public feedback on budget priorities. On December 7, a draft budget will be presented to the new council. Four days will be set aside in January for committee of the whole deliberations on the budget, with the formal open house/public meeting to follow.

Members of staff assured council that the dates in the budget were tentative and said having a general timeline and deadline in place was necessary for staff to move forward with their work on the budget.

“The new council will have ample opportunity in January to develop the budget for 2023,” said Coun. Tom Allwood. “What is presented in December is a starting point.”

Deputy Mayor Aakash Desai said new members of council needed to be ready on their first day in office.

“They have to be prepared to make decisions from day one. I came prepared to make decisions at my first council meeting” said Desai, who noted that the new council would have plenty of opportunities at the subsequent committee of the whole budget sessions to make changes.

At one point during the meeting, Allen and Desai clashed over their comments on the issue with Mayor Paul McQueen ruling Desai to be out of order.

Allen said he was concerned municipal staff would develop a draft budget only to see the new council say “no” and send them back to the drawing board.

“It’s not just about the timeline. It’s about the budget itself. We’re giving direction,” he said.

However, the rest of council disagreed and voted 6-1 in favour of the staff report.

“It definitely will be the council of the day that decides (the budget’s) fate moving forward,” noted McQueen.

In addition to the general timeline for the budget, council also adopted these guiding principles for how the budget will be developed:

1. Service Levels - That the 2023 draft budget be developed based on existing service levels, which have been approved through past budgets or decisions made through council resolutions.

2. New Service Requests - That all requests for new initiatives, or the purchase of assets which are not part of the existing asset base, be presented separately for consideration by council, and shall not form part of the core budget.

3. Inflation - Inflation is expected to have a larger than usual impact on certain budget line items, contracts or capital projects. Specifically, it can be anticipated that any expense affected by fuel, heat, hydro, asphalt, aggregate, and human capital will see increases directly related to inflation. The draft budget will provide best estimates for these expenses, while considering options to soften the inflationary impacts.

4. Reserves and Surpluses - the use of reserves and surpluses is an integral part of the budget process. Prudent use of reserves mitigates fluctuations in taxation and assists in stabilizing uneven spending, particular for one-time and/or capital items. Staff recommended transfers to and from reserves will be included in the draft budget for council's consideration.

5. The draft budget presented to council will be called "2023 Draft Budget". It will not take into consideration public feedback, but will be based on all previous direction from council. Public feedback will be received in a package by council at the same time that the budget is tabled. Comments received after the draft budget has been made public will be forwarded to council prior to budget deliberations. During budget deliberation, council will take public feedback into consideration and may incorporate it into the budget any time up until the budget is finalized at the special council meeting.

Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca

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