by Deron Johnston
At the Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday, September 18, the Department of Corporate Services (chaired by Deputy Mayor Tobin) released the proposed budget timeline for the 2018 municipal budget. CAO, Brian Carré, walked everyone through a slide presentation on factors that impact decisions when it comes to the municipal budget.
The slide presentation started off with an interesting video about “Participatory Budgeting”, which would be used to replace budget surveys. The concept is that residents can bring forward certain projects that they would like to see as part of the budget, and then residents would get to vote on which one they liked. However, the money used for these projects would only be discretionary money (with the amount available chosen by council). All of the big capital and operational spending would remain the domain of the council. This means that people could propose and vote on projects, but with a limited budget. Don’t get too excited though, this won’t be implemented until next year’s budget.
By the time you read this, residents and community groups who were considering making a proposal to council about a community project that they would like to see as part of the 2018 budget have already lost ten of thirty two days that have been allotted for this activity. The deadline for the “public to suggest projects to Council members” has been set at October 20. Most community groups are made up of volunteers and usually meet once per month.
By the time one of these volunteer groups have their monthly meeting, vote to form a committee to create a proposal, complete work on the proposal, have their group review, and vote on the proposal at the next monthly meeting, the deadline would already have long passed. Volunteer groups need more time than a mere thirty days to be able to get organized and put together a thoughtful proposal. This fact seems to have escaped both the municipality and council, despite the concern being raised by both a resident and the North Grenville Times about the lack of adequate time for community groups.
For the first time in recent memory, the municipality intends to have the 2018 budget passed at the December 11 council meeting. When asked why the municipality had moved up their timeline so far from the previous year (the 2017 budget wasn’t passed until the Spring of 2017), one of the responses was that the municipality didn’t have a Treasurer during last year’s budget period and now they do. However, there have been other years when there was a Treasurer, but the budget wasn’t passed until the following year. When asked at budget time last year why the municipality didn’t pass the budget in advance of the budget year, one of the reasons given revolved around the timing of important financial information that was needed for budget preparation that wouldn’t be available until the following year.
This year, residents and community groups will have only three consecutive days, November 14, 15, and 16, to ask questions or raise concerns about the budget. In the past, these public consultation days were more spread out, so that, if you couldn’t make it to one of the consultations one week, you could come to one in another week. This year, if you or your group can’t make it that week, you’re out of luck.
Despite the concerns raised, council passed the timeline with what appeared to be no hesitation or regard for those concerns. This budget timeline appears to be more about satisfying provincial requirements, rather than truly wanting meaningful civic engagement with residents during the budget process. Or, it may reveal a lack of understanding on how to even have meaningful civic engagement. It’s too bad, the “Participatory Budgeting” video started the meeting off with such promise.