2016 Budget Passes @ +2.99%
Wednesday, December 9 was the original day for council to debate the budget around the horseshoe and vote. At 1:30 am, the final budget increase had been worked to 3.42%. Council voted 8-5 to reject this budget that we had been discussing for over eight hours and recess until 6 pm on Thursday December 10 when we would continue the debate to hopefully reach a consensus. After three additional hours of vote reconsiderations and new motions, council approved a 2.99% budget increase in a 7-6 vote that left nearly every councillor frustrated by the result. Truly there was no consensus, but there was a majority decision vote.
I voted against the budget both times. After the budget narrowly passed on Thursday, here is what I posted on Twitter:
The next day, Guelph Politico blogger, Adam Donaldson, asked me to expand on my Tweet and I sent him this reply:
Tonight's decision took out value from the budget that I don't really think had consensus amongst council, regardless of the vote. I believe many who supported service rationalisation on Wednesday took it out on Thursday in the spirit of compromise on other issues that never happened. And many who have long championed propping up residents on the lower end of the economic scale astoundingly voted to increase the affordable bus pass on Thursday compared to where it landed on Wednesday -- and I can only assume they really would have preferred that they didn't feel the need to vote that way. The so-called "compromises" to reduce the budget levy increase from 3.42% to 2.99% created a budget that benefits fewer people and hamstrings the city from looking within to examine its service delivery methods and scope. I believe council took a step back from an untenable budget and created one that is weaker. That's why I could not support this 2.99% budget because it doesn't serve the needs of the residents from across the socio and fiscal spectrum.
Missing From The Budget, But That's OK ... For Now
This budget was an odd beast because there were few items that addressed problems with the city's reserve funds and and growing infrastructure gap — two issues that I am very concerned about and for which I have made my positions very clear. With a reserve fund study and realignment recommendations coming in 2016, though, I was comfortable pausing on the issue this budget season until a report was completed. Additionally, with new asset management positions approved and an intriguing infrastructure funding options report coming to the Corporate Services committee early in the new year, I knew the city was taking steps to improve our infrastructure funding gap. With those two significant items absent from the 2016 budget, the final increase of 2.99% can be viewed in a very different light – much closer to a 5-7% budget increase if sustainability was considered.
I have posted my entire voting record on budget night 2016 on the Votes page, but I also want to provide a brief snapshot of the noteworthy individual items I supported (along with their budget impact):
• Elimination of loose leaf pick-up in favour of bagged leaf pickup (-$185,200 - failed)
• Increasing Farmers' Market fees by 15% (-$9,000 - passed)
• Increasing Guelph Transit cash fares by 25¢ (-$211,337 - passed Wed; failed Thu)
• Increasing transit monthly passes and tickets prices (-$318,000 - passed)
• Reducing affordable bus passes from 50% to 40% of monthly passes (+$79,808 - passed Wed; failed Thu)
• Changing Sunday bus service from a 30-min to 60-min schedule (-$317,790 - failed)
• Changing holiday bus service from a 30-min to 60-min schedule (-$105,010 - passed)
• Eliminating 20-minute peak bus service during the summer (-$778,600 - passed)
• Supporting the Open Government Action Plan (+$214,200 - passed)
• Aligning street sweeping methods to provincial standards ($137,500 - passed)
• Adding two asset management staff (+$227,500 - passed)
• Funding the Ontario Special Olympics with in-kind donations ($35,000 - passed)
• Conducting a city-wide 2016 service rationalisation (+$450,000 - passed Wed; failed Thu)
• Aggressive sidewalk maintenance in 2016 (+$434,500 - passed)
• Adding an additional park planner (+$56,050 - passed)
• Conducting a council composition/employment status and ward boundary review (+$190,000 - failed)
Why I Voted Against Supporting The Budget
I take the stance that if the composition of a proposed final budget is not substantially or materially different from what I believe it should include, I will support it. That's what I did for the 2015 budget — even though it fell short in some areas — and I thought I would have the opportunity to do it again for the 2016 budget.
On Wednesday, I believed the budget did not fully address transit funding properly and contained too many new staff positions that should have waited until after the service rationalisation review was completed in 2016. We would then have comprehensive information before we looked at funding new positions. Consequently, I took the position that the 3.42% increase was unnecessarily high — especially considering that we didn't address reserve funds or the infrastructure gap. On Thursday, after the more-affordable affordable bus pass and service rationalisation were removed from the budget, I was prompted to oppose the budget even voraciously.
The final passed operating budget total stands at $216,442,599 or +2.99% over 2015. Though I voted against it, I believe council speaks with one voice after it collectively makes a decision. This is council's budget, which means it is my budget too.
PS: The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride is one of my favourite movies. Inigo Montoya's famous quote below succinctly sums up my thoughts on deliberations that took place during the 2016 budget: