Saanich staff will prepare “strategy-related” budget reduction scenarios of one and two per cent as council meeting as committee of the whole signed off on budget guidelines for the 2020 budget Monday night.
Council made that decision unanimously after receiving a staff that offered a “very high level forecast of the 2020 budget” and outlined guidelines shaping future discussions. Current “preliminary” estimates call for what several councillors call a “status quo budget” in terms of services with a proposed increase of revenues from property taxes by 4.73 per cent.
“It is always interesting when the document says status quo, when people then [ask] why has everything go up,” said Coun. Judy Brownoff. “But things go up.”
The list of guidelines that councillors considered saw staff seek “direction from [council]” on budget reductions scenarios after Valla Tinney, Saanich’s director of finance, had raised questions about them. Noting that Saanich had generally failed to act on options that staff had previously presented, Tinney said in her report “it [would] appear that this historical reduction scenario approach is ineffective and a non-productive use of staff time.”
Staff, in other words, were asking councillors why they [staff] were bothering with reduction scenarios, when councillors rarely acted on them.
Several councillors, however, appeared unwilling to accept this assessment in questioning the initial list of guidelines.
“As fruitless as they [budget reductions scenarios] might have been in the last few years, council is essentially marching towards an increase of 4.73 per cent without having done any mitigation work in the guidelines,” said Coun. Colin Plant.
Coun. Rebecca Mersereau agreed with Plant in amending the guidelines with the instruction to include the two budget reduction scenarios that call on staff to ask for municipal-wide (rather than department-by-department) savings.
But if the two shared discomfort about the size of the proposed tax increase in calling for the reduction scenarios, they disagreed about potential area of savings: capital expenditures. Under one of the proposed guidelines, capital expenditures funded from current tax revenues would go up by two per cent plus a maximum property tax increase of 0.5 per cent to fund facilities capital repairs and information technology.
Disagreeing with Plant, Mersereau said she has a “huge amount of discomfort” about eliminating that guideline, as he had suggested during earlier discussions.
Saanich failed for more than a century to set aside enough funds to replace and is not yet clear whether the municipality will have enough for future needs, she said.
“I wholly recommend to my colleagues that we avoid pulling that from the budget,” she said. “It is our responsibility to future generations to remain disciplined on putting those investments into reserves.”
While the amended motion maintained said guideline, comments suggest the issue will return.
“As we go down the road the 2020 budget, this is probably the easiest meeting we will have in that whole long, long road,” said Coun. Susan Brice.