I read the recent coverage of budget talks. First, the fact that anyone was present at the final meeting is amazing, considering the significant COVID upswing.
It was interesting to read Mr. Bartley’s comments about ‘thousands of pages’, and challenging anyone to find cuts. (For the record, I have no issue with Mr. Bartley;j ust responding to the municipal sentiment that he voiced.)
First, the ‘thousands of pages’ was compiled mostly by staff, a group that I have long asserted is too high in number and too low in results. They have no motivation to reduce expenditures; if they can simply limit their budgetary increases, they’ve met the council-dictated guidelines.
I accepted the challenge of finding cuts long before it was thrown down. It’s just a shame nobody listens. Starting at least two years ago, I have spent hours on phone calls or e-mails with councillors, various administrative staff (CAO, treasurer, etc.) and staff managers. Some questions are answered, but if the truthful answer will show financial waste, it’ll usually be ignored or sidestepped. Any mention of staffing levels, or of staff acting in a negligent, unqualified, or just plain lazy manner is either foolishly defended or argued. I’ve never mentioned any wasteful or incompetent staff behaviour, to anyone, and been shown any interest in researching the problem. Employees of this municipality, at all levels are defended, it seems, no matter how little it’s deserved. Shifts of workers which are, by municipal policy, completely unjustified, or equipment which we own or lease at an obvious verifiable financial loss seem to be above discussion.
Probably the most frustrating example is watching, four days after the most recent late winter 2019-2020 snowfall, with bare roads, a grader drive its entire route, with the blades never touching the ground, then having this paid ‘drive in the country’ defended by a manager who didn’t even understand how snow removal is performed. (Same operator who I’ve mentioned repeatedly operates as though it was his first day in the machine with no training, winter or summer. Requests to meet with the lead hand at his convenience have also been ignored.)
There most certainly are substantial sustainable cuts in the operating budget. What’s lacking is a staff or a majority of councillors that will explore them.
So here’s my challenge to council and staff: Work obligations and fear of COVID have kept people from the meetings. Instead of the typical online survey for future expenses or programs, run another one, asking one question of the taxpayers: Where do you see the potential for cuts? Just please give the responses the attention they deserve. In this manner, suggestions are on record and harder to ignore. I’ve taken your challenge before you even put it down. Will you take mine?
Bill Cameron, Bognor