A light at the end of the snowy sidewalk?

Nice job, St. John’s! The 2012 budget proves that if you are vocal enough and persistent enough, you might just get what you want. After years of protests, lobbying, and wet feet, the city of St. John’s doubled the sidewalk clearing budget for 2012. On December 12th a large group of people from the Essential Transit Association were in the gallery of council chambers to see the vote on the budget which added $250,000 for crews and $450,000 for three new sidewalk plows.

Although the budget for sidewalk clearing has been doubled, this does not necessarily mean that there will be twice as many sidewalks cleared. Last year around 200 kilometres of sidewalk were cleared (not 100 as I said last month) but city staff tell me that although we will see an increase in the amount of sidewalks cleared, and we’ll also see an improvement in the speed and frequency of clearing for the sidewalks which are done. What makes it hard to peg down is that no one knows when and how much snow is going to fall this year.

Apart from this huge victory for pedestrians, the budget was largely stay-the-course. Property taxes stayed the same and no programs or service levels were cut. Overall expenditures for the city were up 4.3 per cent over last year, but this is almost half the rate of growth from last year (8.9 per cent), which shows a good deal of budget restraint. They seem to be doing a good job reining in spending increases, and they even managed to find small ‘efficiencies’ across the board in different departments and programs… All without cutting services. Weird.

Another change announced which came from public input is that the city is moving to a three-year budget cycle. This will make the city’s budget coincide with assessment cycles and eliminate some of the year-to-year uncertainty when it comes to tax rates.

The topic of the city’s fiscal relationship with the province came up many times. It was noted that the province is charging the city HST on the costs associated with building 23 new affordable housing units in Pleasantville and that Metrobus pays a ridiculous $385,000 in road taxes to the province every year for the privilege of driving the city’s own vehicles on the city’s own roads. 2012 is sure to see continued calls for a review of the municipal-provincial relationship.

Also, it seems there have been steps toward improving the amount of public input in the budgeting process. This budget goes a long way to portray that the city is listening and that they value input. Not bad at all.

So in 2012 make sure to participate in the review of the Municipal Plan which will take place. You never know, the way things are headed, you might just get what you want.