Special Report: Municipal Budget

Toward Sustainable Financing for the City Budget

The city should be looking for savings in the fixed operating budget and exploiting revenue streams from existing bylaws.

By Trey Shaughnessy
Published November 26, 2008

As I understand, the entire municipal budget is approximately $1 billion.

80 percent of the budget is spent on fixed operating costs: library, fire, police, road/sewer maintenance, wages, and so on. Yet the city claims they can only cut from the remaining discretionary dollars. That includes capital investment money. The City always chips away at the capital budget, so we end up with "you get what you pay for" capital projects.

Instead of limiting themselves to the discretionary budget, they should attack the 80 percent. That would be a savings every year. They can start by auditing the large fixed costs.

Cut Spending

Police Services: It's unpopular, I know, and for some reason we're afraid to mess with this sacred cow. The police are City employees and the HPS asks for a five to six percent increase every year, with nothing to show. They claim the City has lower crime, but that has more to do with demographics then better policing.

Parks and Recreation: They do a wonderful job and Burlington, Oakville even Mississauga can barely compare to the services available for the price. But I think it could be trimmed without affecting services. Not the buildings, but I would be looking at the administration, staff (not frontline) but 'management' staff, and their spending budgets.

Stop spraying the fields for dandelions and clover (a waste of money). Allow road medians and large portions of open fields to grow indigenous, perennial plants. What's the point in planting 'sub-tropical' annuals in a temperate climate? Stop referring to plants that grow here naturally as 'weeds'.

Library: Again, our libraries are top-shelf. But the admin side could probably be more accountable and find savings.

Roads: The contracts always go to Dufferin Construction and they run over-budget and always miss deadlines. The city should demand more from the contracts, impose penalties for missed commitments, and try to use a local firm that pays taxes directly back into the City.

Outsourcing: Wherever possible, use local companies. RFP checklists should give top marks from a company that pays local taxes.

Don't just ask their own staff to try to be objective when finding cost-cutting. What senior manager is going to cut down his/her car allowance, trips expense, seminar/learning, bonus? None. They'll cut down one or two part-timers and report they made cuts.

Instead, the city should use an outside (read: objective) auditor and make sure they table a report that says the entire budget MUST be cut by a sustainable six percent. None of this internal business of asking for top-down cuts, because the best savings can be found from the top.

Increase Revenue

This is absolutely possible. No more free rides for bylaw violations. Increase fines, no more "warnings", enforce anti-idling, mobile signs, more speed traps, and add 10 times more Red Light Cameras. These have already been proven to pay for themselves in one year, after which they require very little maintenance and provide a good revenue stream while making roads safer and penalizing only people who deserve it.

Enforce bylaws for off-leash dogs, noise violators, polluters, littering, speeding, incomplete stopping at stop signs (this alone might solve the problem) or not stopping at red light for right turns. This is not totalitarian: the city passed the by-laws, so enforce them or do away with it. It's that simple.

Stop sprawl immediately. If we have trouble paying for what we have now, how does making 'more' of what we can't pay for make sense?

Finally, demand that the fixed-cost departments provide good value for the money. Public companies are generally more wasteful then private, so operate more efficiently.

Trey lives in Williamsville NY via Hamilton. He is a Marketing Manager for Tourism and Destination Marketing in the Buffalo-Niagara Metro.

His essays have appeared in The Energy Bulletin, Post Carbon Institute, Peak Oil Survival, and Tree Hugger.

And can't wait for the day he stops hearing "on facebook".

4 Comments

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 12:05:04

Trey, how did they ever give you a column on this site? I read this entire article and I can't believe you did not use the word "sprawl" once!

Please run for city council!!

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By Schmapitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 12:48:09

Capitalist you get a "D-" for reading comprehension. I don't give you a "F" because "sprawl" was in the second last paragraph so I give you the benefit of the doubt. Also if you look at the author bio he's been writing for The Hammer since the very beginning so I guess that's a strike on you're implied insult that this site is single minded.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 15:05:05

I'm not entirely sure of the definition of a troll, but I assume it would include someone who comments randomly without actually reading the articles, wouldn't it???

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By Socialist (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 15:24:09

I think that Capitalist is too busy making money to be reading these articles completely. Capitalist pig!

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