Taking a moment early in Thursday’s city service review meeting, Coun. Ted Zurakowski wanted to ensure that the city budget includes the little things.
Pulling one frustration aside, he told council and administration about a resident in his ward -- a senior citizen whose sidewalk is lower than the street, so there’s consistently an accumulation of ice at the foot of his driveway.
“It’s frustrating for me, as a councillor, not to be able to help a fellow like that -- there’s no money in the budget,” he said. “We should have the flexibility for whatever is in our ward.”
A flexible fund that council can pull from throughout the year of whatever sum council deems adequate can be looked into, city manager Robert Cotterill confirmed.
In agreement with the notion, Mayor Greg Dionne noted that typically, once the budget is agreed upon early in the year, anything that comes up throughout year’s remaining three-quarters must be denied.
“Once we get everything set, there’s no money,” he said. “When something else happens, we have to pull from other items, and everyone hates that.
“The general public gets frustrated with the little things, because that’s what we’re not doing … We’re not doing the little things, we’re doing the big ones -- the paving and the infrastructure.”
The paving funding shortfall is the first big ticket item that came to Coun. Martin Ring, who countered Zurakowski’s argument for budgetary leeway with the greater importance of tackling city infrastructure deficits.
“We have studies coming out our you-know-what with regards to paving, and we’re short millions of dollars, never mind the thousand dollars here and thousand dollars there,” he said.
“We have serious issues we have to deal with as a city as a whole.”
Providing the city’s elected officials with added insight into these serious issues as a whole is this year’s service review meetings -- a process set to conclude during another day’s worth of meetings on Friday.
“What we’ve tried to do this year is try to look at every department that we have that’s in the general fund and give you an opportunity to see who does the work … what kinds of things do those staff do, what did it cost us over the past five years,” Cotterill explained to council, also noting that this is the first time that this pre-budgetary approach has been taken.
It’s frustrating for me, as a councillor, not to be able to help a fellow like that -- there’s no money in the budget. - Coun. Ted Zurakowski
“My hope is that this document will be the paving stone for the next three years of budgets.”
Accompanying council’s five-hour discussion on Thursday was city administration’s base budget, which proposes a tax increase of 3.6 per cent this year – a budget with “no extras in it, as you know there are lots of other things you will want to discuss,” Cotterill clarified.
Thursday’s meeting touched on various city departments, including the city manager’s office, planning and development, corporate and financial services and the Prince Albert Fire Department.
Highlighting a handful of departments’ presentations was funding requests and possible cost-cutting measures.
One possible expense is another staff member in planning and development services, which reported a shortfall of 960 work hours per year in staffing.
“When I look over … and I see an approval process and timeframe of six to eight weeks per developmental permit, that’s a huge one, and we’ve all talked about the buzz words -- trying to make things simpler for development here in the city,” Ring said. “Six to eight weeks, that’s a long time!”
On the other side of things, various technical improvements were presented to council that might cut down on paperwork, including direct deposits and money transfers instead of cheques.
One option already at residents’ disposal is the city’s Tax Installment Payment Plan Service (TIPPS), which allows property owners to have monthly tax payments taken directly out of their bank accounts.
With only about 40 per cent of residents making use of the program, it’s being underutilized, Coun. Rick Orr stated a few times during the meeting.
This year’s service review meetings will continue on Friday beginning at 8:30 a.m. with a discussion on the city’s public works department.
In the afternoon, the city is scheduled discuss community services. Like Thursday’s meetings, Friday’s will be open to the public.
See elsewhere in today’s Daily Herald for a report on Thursday’s service review discussion about the Prince Albert Fire Department.