In terms of the municipality opting to take a multi-year look at the annual budget process, top budget brass say it helps with long-term planning.
Gord Quinton, the chief financial officer; and Steve Brown, director of budget and performance services for the municipality, said addressing the budget in four-year chunks assists with long-term planning and has been in place in other jurisdictions for years.
The shift to a multi-year process came from a notice of motion from council back in 2020. Quinton said it’s a good concept.
“The idea of a multi-year budget is all based on the strategic priorities that council has outlined for the whole term. Some of the things they’ve asked us to do might not take effect until 2026,” he said.
Brown said by looking at the budget process over four years rather than one year at a time, it can increase efficiencies, and help put long-term planning in better focus.
Mayor Darrin Canniff agreed.
“We need as a council to understand the impacts of our decisions, not just for the next year, but over longer terms,” he said. “It really helps encourage long-term planning, which is what council should be doing.”
It’s not like the budget for the next four years will be finalized at the end of this month – there will be a series of budget meetings taking place at the end of November – for the next four years. Rather, the heavy lifting will be out of the way this year, and there will be time allocated for modifications as needed in the years to come.
The fact that the four-year process straddles an election year – 2026 – was intentional, Quinton said, rather than mirroring the term of office.
“Year Four will come after the next election (2026). The council will be elected in October and will deal with the budget a month into their term,” he said. “In the past, for newly elected people it was extremely tough for them to understand what they were responsible for and to make decisions with no information. They had not been exposed to the different issues going on or the cost pressures.”
Included in the four-year budget is a tax rate stabilization reserve which is intended to help offset any unexpected short-term spending issues that could arise.
It is not in effect for 2024, but does represent 0.5 per cent increases in the 2025, ’26, and ’27 budgets.
Quinton said the reserve will be in place for “unknowns,” using the fact council’s funding plans for the homeless shelter is in place until May of 2025, but what occurs after that is not known at this time.
“There will always be some things that will come up. We never know what will come from the province in terms of legislative changes. We have to have funds set aside for that,” Quinton said.
Municipal budget chair Brock McGregor said having the long view afforded by the four-year budget planning will help councillors realize the impact decisions made for one year can have down the road.
“There’s certainly an opportunity to look through a longer lens at the process. In the past, we would consistently deal with long-term decisions that were made in the short term to chase a specific number. That doesn’t always lead to great decision making four or five nights into the budget process.”
Canniff, who years ago was part of a group of councillors determined to deliver a zero-per-cent tax increase to the taxpayers, said looking back, he regrets the decision.
“I was part of the zero per cent group. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a great thing.’ I look back now and realize it wasn’t,” he said. “We as a community, if we had been thinking longer term, it would have made sense to put in a two-per-cent increase. We would have more in the budget right now.”