COMMENT: What to cut from the City budget?
Councillor Cary Fisher asks if citizens know what they’re paying for. He’s amazed at how little people understand about what the City actually funds. He shouldn’t be surprised. He said it’s up to the citizens of Rossland to enlighten themselves on where tax dollars are spent. But how can taxpayers do that when the City makes such pathetic attempts to inform people about the budget?
Some information is available on the City website, but it takes a very persistent effort to find the details. The home page has no indication about where to look for key documents like the budget. (For those interested, from the home page, click on the “City Hall” drop down menu, then on “Document Library”, then “City Services”, then “Financial Services”, then “Financial Plan”, download the “2012-2016 Financial Plan”, and scroll through this document to find the budget details.)
The City newsletter, which was to be issued every two months but hasn’t been since May, would be an ideal place to highlight the budget and where to find more detailed information about it. Unfortunately, no indication of where to find budget details has been included in any newsletter for the last several years.
Councillor Fisher asked if the museum was important to Rossland because only 47 people turned up for a museum meeting. That’s hardly a way to make decisions. If low attendance at meetings is to be a criterion for budget cuts, Council itself would probably top the list.
He has suggested that, aside from essential services (whatever they may be defined to be), everything else should be on the table for discussion. So what are some of the things that should be on the table?
First, I suggest that all further subsidies to developers be eliminated. An example of a past subsidy is the Ophir Reservoir which was built to support potential development at Red Mountain and the Golf Course. It was not needed for the remainder of town, yet taxpayers, through grants and direct expenditures (particularly the cost over-runs) paid for the vast majority of the project. And the costs aren’t finished yet. There’s still an outstanding claim for damages against the City that is working its way through the system.
Another example of future developer subsidy was the elimination of the Development Cost Charge (DCC) Bylaw. DCCs pay for infrastructure upgrades required only because of development. Without DCCs, taxpayers will end up footing the bill in spite of Mayor Granstrom’s farcical claim that the City can always “negotiate” to get developers to pay. Reinstate the DCC Bylaw.
A further example of developer subsidy is the $100,000 budgeted from general taxation to rebuild the entrance to Red Mountain Resort. The DCC bylaw contained a project to construct a new entrance to Red Mountain and money was collected for that project. The current budget for the entrance project doesn’t include the available DCC funds.
Outrageous salaries for City staff should be reduced or eliminated. In particular, in view of the almost non-existent development taking place in Rossland, the Senior Planner’s job should be eliminated. We don’t need two people doing planning.
Council must repeal the Delegation Bylaw and reassert some oversight and control over the spending habits of the CAO. The ability of the CAO to make questionable expenditures, such as former CAO Victor Kumar did with the swimming pool and arena fiascos or the outrageous salaries he gave to management staff, must be stopped.
Grants to the Sustainability Commission, Tourism Rossland, and the Chamber of Commerce should be eliminated.
The members of the Sustainability Commission (SC) are hard-working, knowledgeable individuals but their talents are being wasted as members of the SC. Most, if not all, of the major achievements of the SC were actually the efforts of the Task Forces that work under the auspices of the SC. Members of the SC should join the Task Force of their choice and work directly with Council as an advisory committee. This would not only reduce costs but would be more effective in getting good ideas in front of council.
Tourism Rossland is not much more than an ineffective marketing agent for developers and accommodaters. The $30,000 a year given to them by the City is a replacement for the start-up costs originally provided by the UBCM. Once start-up was completed several years ago, there should have been no further need for City involvement in the operation. Tourism Rossland should get their funding from the businesses that benefit from their efforts and the $50,000+/- they get from the province through the Hotel Tax.
The Chamber of Commerce gets an annual grant of over $41,000. The majority of that grant (about $33,000) comes from business license fees. Rather than be a middle man, the City should reduce business license fees to an amount which covers any administrative and enforcement(?) costs the City incurs and eliminate the grant to the Chamber. The Chamber should be raising their revenue through fees paid by their own members (they claim they have over 150).
The City should once again utilize the services of the Regional District Building Inspection function. The City withdrew from the RDKB function on the claim it would be cheaper to provide our own service. It has actually cost the City more to provide its own building inspection, with much less qualified personnel than RDKB staff, since that move was made.
The City should refrain from purchasing more properties in town. Instead they should focus on trying to sell some of the building lots that are ready for sale right now and that don’t figure in the City’s future plans. In addition, there are many other City-owned properties that could be made saleable with rezoning or minor infrastructure improvements. These properties could be easily turned into tax generating properties.
Councillor Fisher says citizens don’t know much about the budget. I’m not sure our councilors do either. They should spend more time learning what’s actually in the budget before making unreasonable suggestions like cutting funding to the museum.
Laurie Charlton is a retired chemist who was a Rossland city councillor for 17 years between 1975 and 2011.