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Councillor’s effort to change budget process falls short

An effort by a Nanaimo city councillor to change the budget process and reduce expenditures failed to gain council’s support Monday, but Bill Bestwick says he will continue to try to rein in city spending and reduce the burden on taxpayers.

Bestwick voted against approving the first three readings of the financial plan bylaw, saying he wasn’t comfortable implementing the new budget before council had a chance to discuss higher service level requests, cutbacks and department budgets.

Al Kenning, city manager, said the city has routinely passed the provisional budget in January so the corporation can work under the new budget framework instead of the 2013 version of last year’s financial plan.

That allows city departments to work with updated budgets as council deliberates what to include and exclude before the financial plan is adopted in mid May. Kenning noted that some priorities, such as the implementation of the Corporate Strategic Plan, have shifted council priorities over the past year and the new financial plan reflects a more accurate application of money.

The proposed 2013 budget is pegged at $175 million, a $15-million increase over the 2012 budget, an amount Bestwick said he is hesitant to bestow on taxpayers.

The 2013 property tax portion of the budget is expected to raise $89.7 million for the city, a $3.5-million increase from 2012.

Bestwick’s motion was to have city staff report back to council with as much as five per cent, or up to $4.5 million, carved out of the provisional budget.

“I would like us to undertake all of the reductions or efficiencies or whatever now before we approve anything on a temporary or preliminary interim basis,” said Bestwick.

“What I’m hoping is that staff can come back with a five-per cent reduction so that over the next few months, we can deliberate. If we wait, we don’t have that opportunity. If we don’t start looking now to protect our future, to protect the next generation, then we are not being sustainable.”

Bestwick’s motion to try to reduce the budget to five per cent below the blended 2.6-per cent tax rate increase was defeated 5-3, with councillors Bill McKay and Jim Kipp voting in favour.

Coun. Diane Brennan said it’s up to council to make cuts, not staff.

“These cuts have to originate from us,” she said. “It’s our responsibility, not staff’s.”

Coun. Ted Greves said he wasn’t comfortable pulling an arbitrary percentage out of thin air.

“Reducing it five per cent across the board is unrealistic,” he said. “We don’t have enough money as it is and we have lots of time to discuss the budget, and if five per cent is our goal we can keep it in our heads during the process.”

Kenning said the budget recommended by staff reflects the needs of the community.

“Staff aren’t recommending anything be carved out,” said Kenning. “We are recommending the budget we’ve presented, we think it reflects council’s priorities and the community’s needs. So we’re not recommending any cuts. However, if council asked us we’d certainly oblige.”

The budget, by provincial law, must be passed by May 15. Council uses January through to April for public consultation – an electronic town hall discussion is set for March – and to adjust priorities.

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