© Herald photo by Tyler Clarke
Coun. Don Cody speaks during Monday’s executive committee meeting, during which he thanked administration for the hard work they put into a report outlining the money spent on consultants.
As promised in the days following this year’s significant tax hike, pre-budget discussions have already started in preparation for next year’s budget.
“We’re just looking at the base, and what we have today and different service levels,” Dionne said, noting that the “base” is the exiting budget from which next year’s will be built.
“Where last year, when we went to the budget process we were only asking for extras. Well, this year, before we do that process we’re looking at what we have today.”
The city’s elected officials have already had their first strategic planning meeting, and have their second scheduled for Wednesday and third for Saturday.
“We want to just continue on rolling into November,” Dionne said of the meetings, which have so far been held behind closed doors. “We want to have that process done, and then we’ll start inviting the public in to hear the budget process.”
There’s at least one area within the city’s base budget that Coun. Don Cody wants special attention paid to -- the amount of money spent on consultants.
The Ward 4 councillor has bemoaned the subject for months, and during Monday’s executive committee was given an extensive report outlining the expense.
Since Jan. 2010, $7.15 million has been spent on engineering consultants, of which approximately 77.8 per cent was funded externally.
“It is important to note that the nature of funding of some programs encourages the hiring of external consultants as the government wants the grants to act as economic stimulus for the area receiving the funding,” a report by acting city manager Chris Cvik reads.
Commending city administration for producing such a lengthy and in-depth report, Cody noted the document’s importance during Monday’s meeting, particularly when it comes to budgeting.
“We’re only one taxpayer -- the money that comes from Ottawa, the money that comes from Saskatchewan, the money that comes from the city -- it’s all one person,” he said. “We all pay more.”
After the meeting, Cody said that his interest in the cost of consultants was sparked by the dollar amount he kept seeing in reports from administration.
“I noted that there was a myriad of consultants, so I felt ‘Are we spending too much money on consultants?’” he said.
Where last year, when we went to the budget process we were only asking for extras. Well, this year, before we do that process we’re looking at what we have today. Mayor Greg Dionne
“Sometimes you have to have this information for budget purposes, you need it for strat(egic) planning, and things like that.”
Noting that there are “some disturbing” expenses in the report, Cody said that much more will be said and asked during next week’s city council meeting.
A budget done differently
By starting preliminary budget discussions earlier this year than last, the city’s elected officials hope to improve on the budget process.
Now with a year’s experience as a council, Dionne said that the 2014 budget process will begin with a reduced base budget, instead of the status-quo budget they started with during 2013 budget deliberations.
Last year’s most notable budget increase was the near doubling of the city’s annual paving budget, bringing it to $4 million -- an amount deemed necessary by city administration to keep the city’s road conditions in their existing state, overall.
Rather than increase the mill rate by about 15 per cent, the city’s elected officials opted to pay the increase through a new $189 base tax. By shifting budget items between the base tax and general revenue from which the mill rate is drawn, the new base tax representing paving work.
There was no mill rate increase in the 2013 budget, aside from a revenue neutral readjustment that came with property reassessments.
Commercial properties were harder-hit by the new base tax than residential properties were, beginning at $710 for properties assessed up to $150,000. The commercial property base tax range peaked at $7,080 for properties valued at $1.35 million or more.
Coupled with reassessments, some commercial properties saw their property taxes double, while some saw a decrease or stagnation.
In mid-June, the city’s elected officials decided to extend the commercial property tax deadline from July 2 to Nov. 30, in response to the business community’s concerns.