City council starts to talk budgets

With summer more than halfway through, plans are percolating to make 2013’s city budget discussions strategic with direction.

With summer more than halfway through, plans are percolating to make 2013’s city budget discussions strategic with direction.

At an Aug. 7 special committee of the whole meeting, mayor and council shared some of those plans.

“We want to have a provisional operational budget by Dec.1,” Mayor Kerry Cook said.

Director of finance Pat Higgins confirmed it’s possible to meet that target; however, there will be some necessary tweaking because capital projects could suddenly emerge, estimate revenues won’t be known, or other unexpected things could occur requiring a budget adjustment.

“As long as we have a draft there, we won’t have to have a bylaw in place really until May 15 when it has to be adopted,” Higgins explained.

Cook said she understood when other councils have a provisional budget in place by September, they still wait until the spring to put the bylaw in place.

Coun. Ivan Bonnell said until council can do a line-by-line review of the budget, he wouldn’t be able to determine service levels.

“I don’t know how others expect to answer those questions without having that knowledge,” Bonnell said.

Cook said if staff comes to council and explains rationale for new positions, staff will need to be prepared to restructure to find money to cover any new positions.

“That’s the type of direction that we could give, so we’re not saying no new positions, but we’re saying, yes that’s important, but it’s up to staff to figure out how they can make that work within the existing budget.”

The clearer council is with direction at the beginning, the easier it will be for staff to plan, Cook said.

Coun. Geoff Bourdon said any increase comes in as a proposal on its own, with stated impacts. “It’s not about no increase of service, but about no increase to the operational budget,” Bourdon said. “That really is the bottom line of what we’re talking about.”

Cook also pointed out that public input is an important priority to consider early and that there is always room for improvement.

“How we want the business plan and capital plan presented are things we need to discuss,” she said.

A working session with city council and staff on budget discussions will take place Aug. 22 at 5:30 p.m.

“We’re going to come out with a schedule and detailed priority of what’s going to happen at each one of the meetings, how the public’s going to be involved,” Cook said.

The city confirmed, under the Community Charter, the meeting will be closed because it will be to discuss municipal objectives, part of the annual report process. Council objectives will be made public at a later date.

Williams Lake Tribune