Column: Mayor Moore Talks about Rossland's Financial Planning
The City of Rossland recently held its public consultation on our 2016-2020 Financial Plan. The turnout was fantastic for this normally very lightly attended event. I like to think it was due to our engaged citizenry who are just as fascinated with municipal finance as I am, but more credit is probably due to the rumour circulating on social media that City Council was closing the arena. Spoiler alert: We have not had discussions or made any decisions about closing any of our facilities.
Council has seen the same presentation as the public. Discussions and further public input will follow over the next few months. Decisions on how to best tackle our thorny financial challenges will be made in late summer.
City Staff presented a detailed overview of Rossland’s finances. Our meager revenues were shown up against our substantial expenses. The options for making those numbers live in happy harmony are limited: We can raise taxes, raise revenues or reduce services. Municipalities do not have a lot of other tools available.
Decades of underfunding improvements to essential infrastructure have taken its toll on all of our communities. A municipality’s first obligation is to ensure that roads, sewer and water pipes are functioning and well maintained. To put it bluntly, if you didn’t have enough money in your personal budget to fix both your leaky roof or pay for the upgrades to your backyard bocce court, which would you choose? Obviously the roof has to be prioritized over the recreational facility.
Of course today municipalities provide far more than the traditional core services. Many of those extras are considered very important- support for recreation, support for arts and culture, support for environmental initiatives, support for economic development-the list goes on and on. The trick is determining what of those additional services qualify as “essential” and which are “nice to have”. The big question is how much funding to allocate to them.
The staff presentation listed recreation as representing 20% of our budget — this is not just operating costs but includes some contribution for capital too. Proper asset management considers the full lifetime cost of everything the city owns, including all our facilities. Lifetime costs include acquisition, repair, replacement as well as operations. The 20% number also includes the $50k that Rossland has allocated to help offset some of the extra charges Rosslanders pay to use Trail’s recreation facilities. 20% is a large number but to some in the community it is justified because recreation is an essential service. To others it is not.
Rossland’s historic community center, the Miner’s Hall is undergoing a large renovation project this year- some argue that arts and culture should be less important in times of fiscal hardship. However, unless we want to shutter that facility, we need to invest in it so it can last another 120 years. Leaky roofs do not fix themselves. Council made the decision several years ago that it was important to preserve the building and maximize its usage. Those plans are finally becoming a reality this year. Just like the arena, the Miner’s Hall has its prime time usage when it is brimming with activities and users from all over our area.
Council has directed staff to undertake the creation of business plans for all of our facilities. I am very excited about this project. It will give us a chance to examine the actual fees, charges, revenues, expenses, community value, usage times and a myriad of other details.
There will be plenty of community input, especially from the specific groups who use each of our facilities. New ideas are already being communicated to Council and the project isn’t even officially underway. This is fabulous! Information gathered will give Council some qualitative and quantitative data on which to base long term decisions.
For 2016 our budget is quite similar to last year- there will be no major changes. Taxes on the municipal portion of the tax bill will increase by 3.5%. The water and sewer rates will see an increase of 4.5%. For now, our goal in 2017 is to reduce our expenses by $250k.
By working with community groups I am confident we can increase our revenues in certain areas, reduce costs in others and end up with an affordable tax increase. It is unrealistic to expect a 0% tax increase and still fulfill our obligations to invest in our infrastructure as well as provide all the services and facilities that our residents want. By keeping taxes artificially low we harm the future viability and sustainability of our community.
We will be conducting a Thoughtexchange process as well as a number of focus group sessions to really drill down on what the community values, wants, needs and what we are all willing to pay for it. These are exciting times at City Hall.
Many thanks to all the people who came out for the public session and I hope to see even more participate in our public outreach campaign as we start planning for 2017 and beyond.