Turning inner space into outer space

February 2, 2011

Councillors caught in a budget bind

Frustration over what to do about the city’s budget appears to be reaching a boiling point. Councillors fervently hope for two things: to keep any tax increase down to around two per cent and to pay for costly services that will keep them in good standing with voters.

You can’t have it both ways, and they know it. And their awareness of this conundrum is made all the more apparent because this is an election year. The last thing they want is to face taxpayers at all-candidates forums demanding to know why their taxes shot up. Or why council didn’t improve lighting in the Tranquille market area, for example.

The strategy so far seems to be to keep asking staff to come back with reports on various options that might work out for the best. So far, there has been no magic answer. This led to some discussion in Tuesday’s budget meeting about “beating up on management” and a defensive remark about much work is being done by staff behind the scenes.

One way of looking at it is that councillors are wasting the time of staff at City Hall because they are incapable of making hard decisions on their own. On the other hand, staff are well compensated for their efforts so there is no need to feel sorry for them.

It looks like councillors are hoping for a way out of this predicament with a public meeting scheduled for next Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Interior Savings Centre. Reaction from people who show up will likely be a preview of what candidates will hear from voters during the election campaign.

If you have any interest at all in the city budget, this meeting should be pencilled in on your calendar. The loudest voices will no doubt have the biggest influence on what gets cut and what stays in as the budget finally takes form.