EDITORIAL: Budget review needs new life

NANAIMO – City often cries it does not have enough money to provide what the public says it wants.

Every year, municipalities across B.C. follow a process under the Community Charter that leads municipal councils to pass annual budgets. It’s a process that hasn’t changed in decades, and is one that is strongly attached to growth.

But just because a process has been in place for decades doesn’t mean it can’t be reviewed, or even changed.

In Nanaimo’s case, the municipal budget has ballooned from $140 million just three years ago to a proposed $175 million for 2013.

Increases help pay for union contracts (wages and benefits), increased services, facilities and repaired or new infrastructure. This year taxpayers will chip in an additional $3.5 million over last year to sustain those city services.

Still, the city often cries it does not have enough money to provide what the public says it wants.

On Monday, Coun. Bill Bestwick attempted to poke check the process by not voting in favour of approving a preliminary budget that would effectively allow city departments to start spending the new money. Council defeated his motion 5-3 – but he had the right idea.

He also wanted staff to find up to $4.5 million in cuts before asking council to release the new money in the 2013 budget.

In a nutshell, Bestwick was asking for a process that searches for savings rather than rely on unsustainable growth.

If the city constantly complains it does not have enough money to provide services, and taxpayers constantly cry foul when property tax rates increase, then there is clearly a problem with the process.

Why not work toward reducing the budget? Why not implement zero-based budgeting?

We’re clearly heading down a revenue path that is unsustainable. It makes sense to at least start looking outside of the box for a better way.

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