Council budgets without purpose

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Sir: For 2014, council is again going into the planning of municipal taxes without any coherent agreed-upon vision or strategy for the direction that the municipality should be taking.

But isn’t it the job of council to define a vision for the future of our communities, a set of strategies to implement that vision, and a budget to support those strategies, so as to maintain and improve the quality of life in our communities?

Instead, our annual budgets are pointless, and the only thing council can think to do is cut the budgets.

For 2014, they’ve asked for a budget increase at the general rate of inflation. That budget target was set arbitrarily without reference to any strategic objectives. The best that tax objective can do is maintain the status quo in our communities. In fact, since the municipal rate of inflation is usually higher than the general rate, budgets will have to be cut and services reduced to meet the requested target. So we won’t get improvements in quality of life, and we won’t get more of the same, we will get less of the same. Happy New Year, Chatham-Kent!

It’s not that council isn’t aware of the need for budgets to be based on vision and strategies. In the mid-term report of December 2012, it set itself the goal to “develop processes to reprioritize the budget.” And council approved that the strategic directions and key investment areas as identified in the planning session of Dec. 3, 2012, be used during the 2013 budget deliberations. But in what way can strategic directions and key investment areas influence a budget that is set in advance at below the real municipal rate of inflation? There is no list of actions to be funded in the budget to advance towards these goals, and if such a list was created, there would be no room in the budget to fund those actions.

This approach would be reasonable if Chatham-Kent was in good shape in each of the key investment areas, so no new expenditures would be needed. So how are we doing on the key items council listed?
Jobs – Develop C-K’s economy: C-K has lost thousands of jobs in recent years. Those we have gained back are relatively low paid, so average household incomes have fallen. Shouldn’t there be budget provision to fund further action on this?
People – Attraction and retention: We are competing for the title of the fastest-shrinking municipality in southwestern Ontario. What is our budget for making this a more attractive place to live, work, learn, and play?
Financial – Create a sustainable C-K: The current C-K idea here is to shrink services and budgets, not to identify strategic investments for positive growth.
Health – Address current chronic health issues: Inactive lifestyles have been identified as a primary cause of these chronic health issues, but there is no budgeted plan to support more active lifestyles.

Will the 2014 budget continue Chatham-Kent’s race to the bottom, or start our climb to the top?

John Sigurjonsson

Chatham

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