Saturday, March 2, 2024

As the End of the Year Approaches, Municipal Budget Season is Around the Corner

When the holiday season that many of us are currently gearing up for is over, and the new year begins, council’s attention will turn to the 2024 municipal budgets, and all signs indicate that it will be a rocky road toward finalizing the budgets for next year.

Some members of Council have already openly expressed their fears of the coming budget deliberations. They have made it known that it will not be easy to cobble together a budget for 2024 that will meet everyone’s needs, wants, and desires, while keeping the required rate increase to a minimum.

It’s not just Meaford’s council that is feeling some anxiety about the upcoming budget process. Last month Grey County made it known that next year’s budget will be tough to pull together while keeping rate increases low.

The pressures on both the County council and Meaford’s council are many, and include continued inflation, rising energy costs, increasing insurance costs, and of course the continued need for investment in infrastructure.

As I wrote in my 3Rs…Rants, Raves & Rumours column in our print newspaper recently, while covering recent Meaford council meetings it has been clear that members of council are nervous about the coming budget season, as it will be a struggle to make everyone happy. There will be debates over what projects should be funded and what should not, there will be stress-filled conversations about rate increases, and there will be frustrations expressed by ratepayers, many of whom are already struggling financially, and the prospect of a large increase in county and municipal taxes next year weighs heavy on all of our minds.

With the signals being sent that the coming budgets will not be fun for anyone, it is as important as ever for residents to stay informed, and to get involved. Every budget season offers the opportunity for residents’ input, and in a year with as many challenges facing councils as we have this year, it will be particularly important for residents and ratepayers to engage in the process, and to take advantage of the opportunities for resident input.

The 2024 budget process in the Municipality of Meaford will begin in the middle of January when the draft budget will be tabled and presented to council. Members of council will have two full day sessions for budget deliberations, the first on Friday, January 26, for the operating budget, and the second on Tuesday, January 30, for the capital budget. The draft budget is expected to be tweaked and refined by the beginning of February, with the statutory public budget meeting currently scheduled for Monday, February 12, with a goal of March 11 for Council’s final approval of the 2024 budgets.

Throughout the process, and even now, you, as a resident of this municipality can be involved in the process.

First, visit the budget page on the municipal website (https://www.meaford.ca/en/our-government/budgets-and-financial-statements.aspx) and bookmark it so that you have quick access to it throughout the budget process.

Next, do some of your own reflection on what should be a priority in next year’s budgets, and what should be less of a priority, and share your thoughts with municipal staff and council.

For me, infrastructure and core services should always be the top priority, and ‘frills’ the lowest. What defines a ‘frill’, however, can and is often debated, and that is why it is important for members of council to hear the opinions of the residents of the community that they are elected to represent.

You can submit your budget questions and comments to budgets@meaford.ca, or by calling the administration office at 519-538-1060 ext. 1746, or by dropping by the Administration Office located at 21 Trowbridge Street West.

If municipal budgets are of particular interest to you, you can make sure to attend the council meetings in January and February as well as the council budget sessions and the statutory public budget meeting (all dates and times listed below).

In tough budget years, it is even more important for our elected members of council to hear from the ratepayers. Our council consists of seven regular residents, no different from you or me. They each have their own lived experiences, their own scope of expertise, and they have their own views on what is important at budget time, and what is not. But generally speaking, members of council want and need to hear from the public on important issues, and the annual budgets are certainly an important issue.

So when we get through this holiday season, and the new year begins, stay informed, and get involved, to help smooth the process of what is looking to be a rocky road toward preparing the municipal budgets for next year.

As I have written many times in the past, having your say does not equal having your way, but particularly in years such as this, it is crucial that Council hears from the folks that pay the bills, and that they hear from as many as possible so that Council can have as complete a picture as possible of what the community wants and needs, as well as the struggles that many have found themselves in, thanks to the past few years of at times crippling inflation.

So stay informed, and get involved. Nobody is going to see the budgets they would like to see, as much is well outside of the control of of a municipal council, but if ever there were a year for ratepayers to demand cuts to programs in order to minimize the impact of rate increases, this could very well be that year.

The current budget season schedule, as posted on the municipal website, is as follows:

  • Monday, January 15, 2024, 1 p.m. – Tabling of Draft Budget and Presentation
  • Monday, January 15, 2024, 5 p.m. – Public Meeting on Fees & Charges
  • Friday, January 26, 2024, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Budget Day 1 – Operating Budget
  • Tuesday, January 30, 2024, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Budget Day 2 – Capital and Enhancements Budgets
  • Friday, February 2, 2024, 9 a.m. – Final Consideration & Additional Deliberation of Draft Budget (if needed)
  • Monday, February 12, 2024, 6:30 p.m. – Statutory Public Meeting (Special Meeting of Council)
  • Monday, March 11, 2024, (anticipated in Council at 1 p.m.)  – Final Approval of the 2024 Budgets

 

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