The 2010 budget was tabled, and “debated” at the last St. John’s city council meeting of 2009, on Monday, December 14th. Really, though, there was no public debate. And there was no argument, disagreement, or fire at the meeting. That’s because most of the tough decisions had been made behind closed doors in the past few weeks.
A peek behind the curtain
So what was in the budget? Let’s take a look…
The mil rate, the rate used to calculate property taxes, probably the biggest issue for many homeowners, was reduced by 0.9 per cent to offset skyrocketing property values. For some, this wasn’t enough, and for others, it was too much.
The grand total for the budget was $203 million. This is an increase of 9.1 per cent over last year’s, but one that council assures is not a trend. This large increase, they say, can be attributed to major upgrades to the water treatment and waste management systems. Fingers crossed for curbside recycling this spring.
The budget passed by a vote of 8 to 3—councillors Breen, Hann, and Tilley voted nay. Fresh to council, Ward One councillor Danny Breen was especially critical of the whole thing, stating that he has “fundamental concerns” with the budgetary process. Breen felt that rather than approving or cutting whole programs, we should look to find efficiencies within the current system. “We have not turned over enough stones,” he said. He also said he will work to ensure we do so in coming years.
What effect will a cut to the mil rate have? Even some of the councillors who voted for the budget hinted at an ominous future. Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff said that the budget was “the best we could do,” and that she still felt it “cut a little too deep.” Fellow New Gower Street veteran and At Large Councillor Gerry Colbert echoed Duff’s concerns that the cut in the mil rate may see us running into trouble in coming years. “If [we] think this year is tough, wait until next year.”
My grade for this budget? 3.5 / 5 stars. Broad appeal, acceptable, but uninspired.
One indication of how flawed the budget process was: the fifty-odd protesters who arrived bearing a petition for council to recognize sidewalk clearing as a priority. Seeing as the budget had already been printed and bound by the time they arrived, we are unlikely to see a change in the modest increase from the 2009 sidewalk clearing budget. You’re unlikely to notice that increase unless you happen to walk on the same 100 kilometres of select high-volume streets ploughed in 2009. If you do, you can expect “increased response times”—and salt! If you happen to walk on the other thousands of kilometres of sidewalk in St. John’s, good luck, and try not to get killed.
I sincerely hope that it doesn’t take someone dying for sidewalk clearing to become a priority in this city, and that next year the city conducts some real public input before spending all of our money.