Posted August 10, 2012
I was given the opportunity to travel to another community where the attitudes are refreshing in how citizens interface with city council to work together. The city is Waterloo, where Council has formed a Citizens’ Budget Task Force to create financial transparency of the city’s finances and management.
It’s textbook on how political democracy should work with a free flow of information to all citizens.
The odious comparison about the way our city is being run is straight out of the theatre of the absurd.
Let’s start with the basic recommendations. You don’t have to have an accountant’s degree to understand where the Waterloo citizens’ committee is headed.
1. Propose an annual report, easy to understand, with a 10-year trend table of balance sheet, income statement and total reserves. accompanied by a detailed management discussion and analysis.
We interrupt this programs to ask: “When did this ever happen in Guelph?”
2. An annual operating performance analysis matching actual to yearly budget performance.
Jeepers, what a novel suggestion. Is anyone listening in City Hall?
3. Establish an annual capital expenditure tracking report with original budget, revised budget and actual expenses itemized by project.
For starters, let’s talk about the real cost of the Civic Museum and the compost plant.
4. Publish all collective bargaining agreements going forward.
Good grief Charlie Brown, they want to know all about us!
5. Abandon the use of the Municipal Price Index (MPI) for setting the rates of the annual property taxes. That authority rests with council.
Well, that’s not how it works in Guelph.
6. Direct staff to investigate a more broad-based method of setting tax rates. Take into account citizen affordability such as changes in personal household incomes.
With most of Guelph’s senior staff living out of town, it may be tough getting the handle on that proposal.
7. Consider during the budget development process, both the previous year’s budget and the actual performance.
Gawd! I hope they are doing that but we’ll never know because it’s a secret, right?
8. Compare compensation practices, including pensions and benefits, against the local market, adjusting for market conditions in both the private and public employment sectors.
That’s a great suggestion. But will Guelph Council have the political will to consider it let alone enforce it?
9. Investigate the magnitude of the city’s future employment liability from existing retirement plans and investigate options to mitigate any major exposure.
This is the most pressing financial liability the City of Guelph faces in the near and long term. With a staff costs of salaries, wages, benefits and pensions, now at 89 per cent of the total city budget, the compensation threshold has been breached.
The City of Waterloo’s staff compensation portion of its budget is 56.6 per cent.
Guelph taxpayers need to see a different approach to budgeting. It starts with the staff being informed that last year’s budget is not the starting point but the absolute point.
There is a culture of entitlement pervasive among certain Guelph senior staff members. What is needed is a culture of efficiency that holds the interests of the taxpayers paramount.
Citizens should become aware of the serious problems the city faces and band together to force change.
All you have to do is compare.
Let me know what you think. – gerrybarker firstname.lastname@example.org