With their approval of the 2020 municipal budget framework on Monday, budget season has officially arrived. Between now and the end of the year, budgetary issues will dominate the time of staff and council, who are in the unenviable position of trying to balance the wants and needs of the municipality while attempting to minimize the impact on ratepayers.
Top of mind for all members of council of course is infrastructure, and the framework approved on Monday continues the practice in recent years of pumping more funding to infrastructure needs, a practice that few would argue against.
When it comes to municipal budgets, we all have our particular areas of focus, and while infrastructure is rightly a top priority for most, it can overshadow other issues that residents feel are important.
In the coming months we are sure to hear from residents who oppose or support a range of budget-related items, and though the season is just underway, I have already heard from a few residents with opinions about what should or should not be included in next year's budget.
Two of our readers that have already contacted me have expressed frustration that municipal staff receives a cost of living increase each and every year while for most of the rest of us annual cost of living increases are little more than a pipe dream. I understand the frustration that people feel when they see government workers having their salaries bumped up in order to cover the cost of living increase while those without that luxury fall further behind each year. In a more perfect world (arguably), all workers would have strong union representation which would use the gains of employment sectors like government workers to apply pressure to employers to match those cost of living increases. But then we live in a society that for some reason has decided that unions are evil, and the average worker can fend for themselves. I never like to hear anyone complain about the disparity between employment sectors, if they also oppose worker representation.
Many residents have expressed to me a desire for Meaford to improve its winter roads maintenance with the perception that this municipality falls behind other communities when it comes to keeping the roads clear. As always, the question would be, from where would you divert funds in order to improve that particular service, because if you are going to spend more money in one department without raising taxes to cover the cost, then another service will have to see its funding reduced.
Another comment I have already heard early in this budget season is that Meaford needs to address the perception that this community isn't being adequately policed despite the two million dollars we fork over to the OPP each year. On that issue I would suggest that we be careful what we wish for, because any augmentation of the basic policing that we receive in this low-crime community will come at a significant cost, and most that I have spoken to on this issue over the past year seem to want more policing but they don't want to pay more for it. Such is the tight-wire act that councillors have to master when it comes to budget issues.
Whatever your particular focus when it comes to next year's municipal budget, now is the time to start doing your homework. As in previous years, all budget-related documents will be published on the municipal website, allowing all of us to do our own research. The plan this year will see a number of meetings, all of which are open to the public, so for those who are interested I would strongly suggest attending, particularly the two meetings planned for November 25 and 26. Those two full-day meetings will be the best opportunity to take in council's full debate and discussion on all aspects of the budget, and by attending and paying attention, it can help put things into context. And it can help residents understand the complexity of what goes into producing a municipal budget.
From my perspective the best chance at producing a budget that is palatable to the widest range of residents is for as many ratepayers as possible to engage in the system, to attend the meetings, to do some research and to offer constructive ideas and criticism before council votes to approve the 2020 budget in January.
That said, as I have written before, having your say doesn't equate to having your way. We have a community of 11,000 residents, and those residents represent a wide range of ideas, and you can be sure that if you think X, there will be plenty of people that think Y. The trick for our members of council is to find that middle ground, but it is never easy.
It's your budget, so get involved!