Letter: Former councillor criticizes 2017 City of Revelstoke budget

Gary Starling writes that council should be looking at service levels and which ones we can either do without or scale them well back.

The following is an open letter to mayor and council:

Editor,

I would like to make some comments regarding the proposed budget for 2017.

First off, I would like to discuss the budget process and the information that has been made public.

The proposed budget and financial plan that is available to the public, in my opinion, is lacking detail. There are few details about what was spent in years past, so it is impossible to cull from this document what and where the actual increases in spending are. It should also include a complete list of all the capital expenditures for each department. This would be a helpful component for the public to view.

As well, it is deeply concerning that some of council made very little or no effort to attend the meetings dealing with budget. An inspection of the minutes from these meetings clearly shows this. How can a person make diligent and educated decisions regarding a budget when they do not even participate in the process?

The opinion of the financial officer from recent past was that we continue to spend too much money and accumulate debt far more than comparison communities. This appears to be still the case.

I believe this council has made several decisions on spending before considering what effect those decisions would have on the budget. SEE CLICK FIX is a good example of that. This council agreed to implement this expensive program within weeks of being in the seat. Was there any discussion as to what effect this would have on the budget going forward? Even though staff and others may consider this a useful tool it is in my opinion, a luxury we could easily do without. It would be a good exercise for council to look at the deliverables and overall use of this program to determine if we are getting appropriate value for this.

Several departmental budgets seem to have ballooned. Protective services, as has been in the past, lead the way. The addition of the Emergency Services Coordinator/Trainer is another big-ticket item. The decision to create this new position was done in camera. This does not seem consistent with a governance that has promised the public that they would be open and transparent. As well, again no consideration as to what effect this spending would have on the budget. This should be done BEFORE the decision is made to create this.

This is only two expenditures that are not necessary. There are many more.

We have an elevated level of service in many areas. It is quickly becoming a great tax burden to maintain them. It is time for council to look at all services and contracts and look for savings. Do we truly need all the services we are currently maintaining? I suggest council look at each one in depth. Look at the cost and the deliverables of each service. Ask yourself, can we live without this? The answer in many cases is yes.

Publicly, the Mayor has said this is a “status quo budget.” I believe this is misleading. It is status quo to service the capital expenditures proposed. However, it is not status quo when you consider this level of taxation has never been considered in any previous short term or long term planning. As well, it is certainly not status quo in relation to what other communities of our size are contemplating.

The plan to relieve business of some of the tax burden could also be questioned. This is not the first time council has addressed what is perceived as an inequality of tax burden on business. The Chief Financial Officer a few years ago did a comparison of several businesses in Revelstoke against similar businesses in other communities. The result was the perception was flawed and in fact the Revelstoke businesses for the most part paid similar taxes to the comparison group. To put more tax burden on the public without proving this is just wrong.

Council should be looking at our service levels and which ones we can either do without or scale them well back.

If we continue with this scale of spending, it will become unsustainable. The idea a few dollars here and there, or an extra percent of tax is no big deal is flawed. People who are already struggling take the biggest hit. Think about the young families trying to provide for young children. It is a hardship and can affect the opportunities children have to participate in sports and activities. Elderly people on fixed incomes are also adversely affected.

I strongly believe this budget should be rejected. Department heads should be asked to scale down capital expenditures and find savings. Come back with a budget that is more consistent with the cost of living and is more balanced.

Respectfully submitted,

Gary Starling,

Revelstoke

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