In recent days there has been a lot of discussion about the upcoming budget for the City of St. John's. News reports of a Councillor "leaking" a planned mil rate change that "isn't low enough" have led to reactions from other Council members and residents alike.
Possible tax increases aside, part of the issue is that the City is not speaking publicly about budget details, and terms like "lockdown" and "leaks" are being used. This has many people concerned about transparency of our budget process.
I completely understand where people are coming from on this and I'd like to weigh in on the issue.
"It's such an important, complex document that it needs to be presented in full"
This budget "lockdown" situation, while being standard practice for many years, has been frustrating for me as someone who deeply believes that public engagement is the path to better decision making. However, I do understand the rationale.
Essentially, when individual details are released in advance of budget day with no explanation or context, there can be confusion or concern that can't be fully addressed or appropriately responded to until days or weeks later.
How did we get here?
This past spring, a series of budget consultations commenced, providing multiple options for the public to give input into our budget. This helped Council and staff determine the priorities of residents as we worked out how to spend taxpayer dollars. (You can read a synopsis of what we heard by clicking here.)
Since then, City staff have been working right across the organization to prepare complex departmental budgets, realign spending priorities, and plan for the next three years (and beyond) amid increased demands on and expectations for a growing city.
As for the details of how we came to the proposed direction, a discussion of those will have to wait until after Monday's Council meeting. Those details should be taken as a complete picture in order to best understand how the next three years will play out and how we can continuously improve how City Hall works.
While I can't divulge details of the upcoming budget for a few more days, I'm confident it will be clear that strong efforts were made (and will continue) to set out a prudent budget that minimizes the taxation impact on residents while working to ensure a service level deserving of the contribution made by all residents.
When can we have a good discussion?
I'm chomping at the bit to have a more robust dialogue about the budget, but in the meantime I hope I've explained why we have a "lockdown" in the days leading up: It's such an important, complex document that it needs to be presented in full; as a complete and comprehensive package.
That conversation can finally happen after our Council meeting on Monday evening, December 14th. In the meantime, please feel free to leave your comments below and I'll respond as best I can!