After attending the budget meeting on March 12th, I think Paul Mathews is right — city hall does not get it!
In the worst economic downturn in our lifetime staff are recommending a tax increase of over 20 per cent over the next three years. They do this based upon the recommendations of a blue ribbon committee that did not even have local business representatives on it. The understanding of reality is reminiscent of Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake”!
I heard staff defend the staffing levels and their salaries, which when combined with their benefits that are in the teens can only be called exorbitant for a municipality of this size.
I did hear and appreciated two new councillors say unequivocally “we hear you,” but I heard a mayor that simply said we expected you to be mad, but this is reality. There is certainly a reality to be dealt with but not by over-taxing a community that is already suffering.
I ran a $40 million public corporation with over $100 million in capital assets for numerous years, eight of which we were required to reduce the budget. We had no ability to further tax the public to make up the shortfall, but we came up with creative approaches that increased efficiency, improved results and maintained morale. I expect no less of our municipality and to that end have the following questions:
1) Every public and private corporation I know of is reducing staff levels in these difficult times. Staffing is the largest percentage of the budget and has to be undertaken. The reductions should always start at the senior management level but we likely require across the board reductions. The mayor says, “we have services that must be maintained.” I had the same, but we could always find some reductions in every department. Why is this approach not being taken?
2) There appeared to be a lack of open minds to looking at every area in the budget. In the meeting the sustainability centre was raised, only to be defended by staff. Why is the municipality competing with our own local businesses and why is this centre a sacred cow?
The municipal contribution to Tourism Whistler of $650,000 was raised. Do they need this amount when the Olympics will bring exceptional free publicity next year?
The $500,000 contribution to capital was defended, and I agree the municipality needs to bring this fund back up, but why not by $300,000 each year?
3) It was indicated that there would be an increase in staff over the next year to deal with the Olympics. It is my understanding that VANOC is running the Olympics and that municipal staff are responsible for running the municipality. Have we confused the roles and have we forgotten that the municipality is responsible first to the taxpayer for the efficient and effective operation of the municipality?