Saturday, February 24, 2024

Budget Meetings Worth the Trek – Even in Winter

By Stephen Vance, Editor

Perhaps I’m feeling a little cranky after spending the past week fighting an impressively powerful and determined flu bug, but I’ve had enough of winter already.

I’ve long wondered what we Canadians have done to deserve the annual punishment we call winter. For a nation of people known across the globe for being friendly, polite, and for the most part peaceful, we are certainly treated poorly by Mother Nature from December through March each year.

Snow packed sidewalks, ice covered roads, frigid temperatures, and unfriendly winds are not my idea of a “winter wonderland”.

It is quite possible that this nagging flu bug and the frigid weather wouldn’t bother me quite so much if it weren’t also municipal budget season.

We’ve been spoiled in recent years by Meaford’s management team, as budgets have been presented, debated, and approved before Santa has even begun loading his sleigh.

Heading out to an evening budget meeting is a much more pleasurable experience when you don’t need to have layers of clothing that still somehow don’t prevent shivering in the car; when you don’t need to dig out before heading out; when you don’t need to scrape the inside of your windshield.

An early budget wasn’t in the cards this year due to the October municipal election, so weather permitting is how these meetings have to be held, and I must say, as cranky as I am about winter, the budget process though later than ideal, has gone pretty smoothly thus far – though given all the bluster created by a supposedly tax-exhausted community, attendance at the public budget presentations has been surprisingly low.

Whether the weather has had anything to do with the lack of attendance at these meetings is difficult to say. The meetings so far have been free of snow storms, but even sans storm, who really wants to leave the comfort of home for a hard chair in a community hall?

The next meeting is on Monday February 2 at 3 pm in the council chamber, and it is an important meeting as members of council will be reviewing and deliberating the 2015 budget – meaning they will actually debate and offer opinions and ideas. This will be our first real opportunity to see what this newly elected council brings to the table with regard to debating a budget. If there was a meeting worth bundling up and heading out into the frigid February air, this would be the one.

While the budget on the whole seems to be a pretty solid and responsibly crafted budget, there are always tweaks that can be made, there are cuts that can be entertained, and there are priorities to debate. Will this council respond to the pressure to cut costs, or reduce staff? Will council ask staff to find efficiencies in order to direct more money to roads? Will council examine the various departments with a fine tooth comb?

One never knows, but we can probably bank on an inappropriately lengthy and boisterous debate about the proposed 50 cent bag tag increase. An item that amounts to a whopping $35,000 on a $13 million budget.

Those wishing to express their own views on the budget will have one final chance on February 9 at 7 pm at Meaford Hall when the mandatory public meeting is held prior to the anticipated budget approval date of March 2.

Winter weather aside, these meetings are important, and the effort made by those who attend and share their ideas is well worth it.

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