While city council veterans settle in for another budget season, those brand new to council chambers are playing catch-up.
Elected only a few months ago, Rick Orr, Mark Tweidt and Tim Scharkowski join their more experienced colleagues in poring over budget documents numbering in the hundreds of pages.
“It’s a little overwhelming having your first round at it,” Orr said.
“For us, it’s like opening the book for the first time, and we have to read through it, comprehend it, ask our questions -- I’m told that our job is to go and challenge the directors with questions ahead of time, and that is what I propose to do.”
City administration is ready and willing to answer questions alongside the group of elected officials with a history on council, Orr said, noting that effective teamwork is helping ease him through the process.
“I’m amazed at the amount of work that the directors and staff have done in preparation,” he said.
Although he’s only a few months into his first term on council, Scharkowski has 25 years of experience working for the city.
“So, I know some of the inside day to day operational stuff that I can ask questions about,” he said. “Maybe there can be some cost savings with some of my suggestions, or what I’ve seen.”
Tweidt said that he’s grateful to be self-employed, because it means being able to give adequate time toward studying the budget documents and to meet with administration to clear up questions or concerns.
“Administration has been really good and open about that so we can sit down with the managers,” he said.
Although he’s not happy to be greeted by a tentative 3.6 per cent tax increase during his first kick at the can, Tweidt recognizes this year’s potential tax increase as a necessary means of dealing with the city’s infrastructure deficit.
“We had a past council that had a zero per cent (increase) -- that was the wrong thing to do,” he said. “We are living with what has been given to us, so we’ll certainly do our very best to do what we can.”
“I think people are wise enough to understand that you can’t keep doing zero and have progress … we’re going to lag behind,” Orr said.
In advance of the upcoming budget discussions, Orr has put together a list of questions he plans to continually remind himself of:
Does it serve the public interest? Is it necessary? Is it appropriate? Can we partner? Is it efficient? Can it be defended? Is it good for Prince Albert? Would you do it, yourself?
“I’m going to have that (list) at my desk at all times, and I am going to be continually asking myself these questions,” he said. “That’s what I think good fiscal management does.”
For us, it’s like opening the book for the first time, and we have to read through it, comprehend it, ask our questions -- I’m told that our job is to go and challenge the directors with questions ahead of time, and that is what I propose to do. - Coun. Rick Orr
With the city facing increases in various areas, including a recently improved utility rate increase that will see the average residential user pay 10.4 per cent more this year, most constituents seem to understand the position council is in, Tweidt said.
“Most people go, ‘my goodness, that was terrible when the water went down,’” he said. “We’re no different than anywhere in North America – everybody’s in a(n infrastructure) shortfall.”
“I think people are wise enough to understand that you can’t keep doing (a) zero (per cent tax increase) and have progress,” Orr said. “We’re going to lag behind.”
To help offset added costs, Tweidt said that he’s going to be doing his part to find efficiencies within the documents he’s been provided -- a sentiment also expressed by Orr and Scharkowski.
The city’s preliminary budget, which was prepared by administration, is available on the city’s website, at www.citypa.ca.