Like the 17th running of an old movie, the Chatham-Kent municipal budget process has begun to flicker across our screens once again.
The characters may change (or actually many of them don’t) but the plot remains virtually the same.
The opening scene is the edict from council to keep costs under control – this year’s script calls for a two per cent operating budget cap.
Enter the heroic civil servants, bureaucrats and municipal employees who manage to whack millions of dollars in spending that council would have had to debate. This year’s figure is $10 million or so.
Next come the poorly attended public input meetings where a smattering of residents show up to either a) put in a plug for the special project, b) remind municipal officials that they’re being watched or c) try to makes sense of budgetary figures it would take a PhD to decode.
Waiting in the wings are the really angry residents because something they love may be cut – in this case it’s the Bothwell Arena (which at the end of the day probably isn’t going anywhere) and Communities in Bloom (which probably is).
Finally, forged in drama, comes a document with which no one seems truly happy.
Once again, infrastructure doesn’t get the attention it deserves, (because no one cares about a bridge falling in until it actually falls in), sacred political causes are rescued, the public has a vague feeling that there really are millions more which could have been saved and council congratulates itself and moves on.
To the public, the process took six weeks or less from meeting to finalization. To city hall staffers, it’s been a task that started at the end of last summer.
We spend too much time in Chatham-Kent looking back at what we once had or trying desperately to hold on to what we’ve got to have much vision of where we should be going.
Next week, we’ll look at some of the ways we might put this tired process to bed, begin realizing our potential and looking forward.