The city’s draft budget is just around the corner

David F. Rooney

Pity our poor Councillors: after years of watching the economy grow, they’re going to have to deliver a lean budget that addresses major spending concerns while maintaining adequate levels of service.

It is not an enviable position to be in. But that’s where they are.

They are currently considering a budget that would see a 5 per cent reduction in spending. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, it will have impacts on the delivery of services to local residents. As anyone who has logged onto the Take A Stand, Say No To This Plan Facebook page knows by now, there is a certain amount of public angst about potential service cuts.

There will be some but exactly what will be cut and by how much remains to be seen. Certainly, it’s going to make for some tough calls by Mayor David Raven and our six councilors.

But they are receiving some help. The members of the so-called Financial Focus Group — Bart Larson, Bob Melnyk, Dale Morehouse, Brydon Roe, Betty Sloan and Arvid Zachary — who were appointed to provide Council with feedback from homeowners and businessowners issued their recommendations to Council during its meeting as a Committee of the Whole (CoW) on Tuesday.

“We feel the financial plan should be purpose driven and principle based,” they wrote. “Investments should reflect goals and objectives to be achieves. If these exist they weren’t obvious in the (budget) process (which they have watched closely for the last five or six weeks). We had hopes to see a clearer matching of service deliverables with costs and benefits and the relationship to goals and objectives… we suggest this going forward.

The group was generally disappointed in the way that directed budget reductions were addressed and the specific cuts proposed by individual departments. They suggested a “some kind of value audit” be performed that compared levels of service with those achieved in similar-sized communities, saying this “would allow more informed decisions.”

They also recommended that the BC Assessment Authority be lobbied to re-examine assessment for all property classes in Revelstoke and that the City reduce the current tax burden on Business Class 6 to “promote the survival and health of this class” through a phased approach.

They had a number of specific recommendations, too. Among them was a moratorium on new/enhanced/expanded spending areas. They said the Fire department’s staffing levels and overtime costs must be examined and the City should reconsider its planned curbside recycling program. Other commitments that should be re-examined include its commitment to affordable housing, coordination of the annual Glacier Ball Tournament registrations and the deficit at the Revelstoke Community Energy Corporation.

Click here to read their three-page report to Council.

But while suggesting places the City can cut spending, the group also called for increased salaries for the mayor and Council.

“It is our collective opinion that the mayor’s annual salary be increased to $25,000 and Councillors to $12,500, beginning with the next term of office,” they said. “Thereafter, annual increases should occur and be tied to a cost-of-living index. This increase would bring out City officials to the provincial mid-averge for communities our size. While no person runs for politics for monetary reasons, we do not believe that they should be undervalued by the community.”

Mayor David Raven is currently paid $22,000 a year and each of the six Councillors receive $11,000 to perform their duties as Revelstoke’s top municipal decision makers. The $88,000 they are collectively paid represents 0.29% of the overall budget being discussed for 2010.

There will doubtless be people in town who will say they don’t deserve it. But consider this:

  • The last raise for the mayor and City Council was voted in more than 10 years ago; and
  • You get what you pay for — meaning if you want mediocre people on Council — people who will vote the easy way, rather than the hard or smart way then go ahead and oppose this.

Personally, I think this Council is facing some very tough decisions. It’s easy to champion the view that Council should simply cut all spending by five per cent regardless of how it affect programs and services. But let’s be realistic. It’s never that easy. Council could approve a preliminary budget as early as next week and put it forward for public comment. At that end of that public review period Mayor David Raven and Council will put the finishing touches on it,  vote on it and then set it in motion.

That means you, the citizens of Revelstoke will have 30 days in which to make comments about it and ask for changes. In years past there was little comment about the budget. That may not be the case this year.

You have a voice, use it.