Taxpayers’ association critical of budget process

The Red Deer Taxpayers’ Association wants city council to take a fine tooth comb to its budget process in order to find a better way of handling city finances.

The Red Deer Taxpayers’ Association wants city council to take a fine tooth comb to its budget process in order to find a better way of handling city finances.

President Jason Stephan said there has to be a better way to balance the budget and reduce spending. Stephan made the remarks in response to the $305-million operating budget, approved by council last week.

“Each year the budget goes up more than population and inflation growth combined,” said Stephan. “The processes that are currently undertaken are leading to that result.”

The $305-million budget came with a 3.93 per cent tax increase (before the education tax is factored in this spring).

Stephan said council should look at ways to lead to spending that is in line with population growth and inflation.

“There is room for significant improvement,” he said. “I tried to use the snow removal as an example.”

Stephan said the automatic reaction or solution is to put the expense onto the bottom line rather than looking within the organization for savings. He said there are likely more savings to be found on a $305-million budget.

Mayor Tara Veer, however, said this was the first year in her 10 years of budgets that council has found as many savings in the base budget.

“Our public is looking for respect and is ultimately hoping council would respect taxpayers dollars and when we make investment, it’s sound investment in our future,” said Veer.

“I think we did attempt to do that in this budget in terms of the base budget savings that we found and debating service level cost savings.”

Last year the city’s audit committee chaired by Veer recommended that council conduct an operational audit on the utilities.

The independent audit showed the city was getting good value for the investment.

The cost-savings in this budget was about $900,000, which included savings in consultant fees, delays in hiring, and reductions in conference and seminar fees. There were also savings on the utility side.

In a letter to the Advocate, Stephan encourages council to hire an independent management professional to review the city’s operations on a “value for money” or “zero-based” budget basis and report saving opportunities to council to be applied to next year’s operating budget.

“In the future there will likely be other parts of the organization as the audit committee and council move forward that we may engage in another value for money audit,” said Veer.

Council passed a resolution during the operating budget deliberations to review its process, creating budget guidelines that may include gathering more public feedback. Stephan says he applauds city council for the effort but cautions on the implementation.

“Businesses come up with great ideas all the time but businesses succeed or fail based on poor implementation of maybe great ideas,” said Stephan. “It is a really good idea. I am sure there is some improvement. This is a status quo budget. I am hoping in future years that we do confront some of the trends we have seen over the past 10 years in terms of spending growth.”

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