Crafting a community budget is always a balancing act. I'd say that the great majority of Kamloops value the amazing quality of life our community offers. The services that city hall provides to help maintain this quality of life obviously come with a price tag. This price tag has to be balanced with people's ability and desire to pay. I've also heard from many people who are what I would call "tax sensitive". They may not be quite there yet, but they are concerned about not being able to afford further tax / fee increases.
We talked about this balancing act within my council campaign committee and, in my campaign platform, we put in a committment about "carefully reviewing city spending". I brought forward this committment at the city council strategic planning session and, combined with other input from council colleagues and city staff, this is the committment in council's strategic plan (PDF file) - "Conduct a thorough review of city costs and fiscal accountability and the balance of user fees and taxes".
I think we had a much improved budget process for the 2012 community budget. Specifically, Mayor Milobar suggested a much enhanced public engagement process. I think this helped council a lot to make good final decisions on allocating resources.
For the 2013 budget, I am interested in further improvements specifically focussed on looking at potential cost savings and also looking at getting budget information to the public earlier in the process. Kelowna went through an interesting exercise in the past couple of years. Kelowna council asked their city staff to bring back a budget with a 0% tax increase just as a base, to see what 0% would look like. This was before last year's civic election. The newly elected council continued this budget process and, in the end, the tax increase was %1.1.
So, I made a motion at council about a month ago to hold a council workshop to talk about cost savings for the budget. I started off with a notion of getting close to 0% as possible but I am grateful for the input from council colleagues and city staff that putting that 0% idea out there might be both reckless and unrealistic for Kamloops. I am more than willing to see where we get, without jeoparding quality of life the community supports. I am also grateful for unanimous council support to hold a workshop to look at "reasonable and practical steps" to achieve cost savings in the 2013 city budget.
My thinking on this process continues to evolve. All the cost saving that might be achieved might not be achieved in 2013. This stuff takes time. I have a great deal of faith in the financial skill of city staff. I recently met with city hall's finance director, Sally Edwards, and with our Chief Administrative Officer, David Trawin. They are already working on some really exciting stuff. One example is the purchasing coordination efforts I first noted here in early 2011.