Chamber Raises City Budget Concerns

Pipestone Flyer

    “Following considerable time with deliberations regarding the proposed 2013 and 2014 City of Wetaskiwin budgets; we as the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors concluded it was of necessity to respond to City Council regarding the above stated budgets.” These were the opening comments presented to City Council on February 11th, 2013 by Randy Plant, President of the Wetaskiwin Chamber of Commerce.  

    “One of our conclusions is that the process is flawed in that Council has not provided clear direction to City Administration as to what is expected to be brought forward in the sense of a responsible budget. (i.e. 5% budget increase vs. 14.2% or 9.4%).” 

Alderman McQuarrie was disappointed with the Chamber 

    Alderman McQuarrie took offense to this statement and chastised the Chamber for their presentation. The basis of her concern is that the Chamber should not have criticized the City for the budget process and outcomes. She stated she had expected the Chamber to come to City Hall with statistical information about how the proposed budget increases will impact businesses in Wetaskiwin. She expected this to be supported by the Chamber having gathered and presented a comparative analysis of surrounding communities.

    Alderman Joe Branco, a local businessman challenged McQuarrie. He was emphatic that the proposed increase in taxes has a negative impact on local businesses. “The cost to my business with increased taxes and utilities makes it increasingly difficult to operate. Everything is going to go up.  I am hearing similar stories from other businesses at Tim Horton’s.”

Mr. Plant explained the Chamber is frustrated. 

    Although the Chamber reviewed the entire budget document, they were unable to identify ‘line-by-line’ budget items contributing to overall budget changes. “We further find that the budget document fails to provide sufficient detail on any department in order to either justify or question the expenses shown. Therefore it makes for a time consuming and difficult task to further analyze the expenditures and find areas to consider ‘trimming’.

    We believe that clear precise direction must be provided by Council to all departments in order to revisit and achieve an improved budget that is in keeping with our economic climate. It is strongly believed that Council should be in fact leading the community by example and not attempting to “live outside the means” that are affordable to the community.”

Other concerns highlighted by the Chamber

        The proposed tax increase is a factor that could have a ‘negative impact’ on the economic development for the City; which would include new business growth, businesses expanding existing operations, new construction in commercial and residential sectors, as well as residential market growth.

    Another area that clearly defines and affects the budget is the policies that are currently in place; while policies are essential for operations to be conducted efficiently Council must also analyze those policies. It is the analyzing of the current policies that could in fact play a significant role in redefining the direction of future budgets. One of the guiding questions in this analysis should in fact be; what is the benefit vs. the cost? Restating again the example of, “living within the means”! While it is nice to run a “Cadillac” system of services we believe that the City must find efficient ways to operate and provide services required and at reasonable levels that are sustainable.

    A recommendation that should be strongly considered by Council is to immediately implement a salary/wage/benefits “freeze” in addition to a hiring “freeze”; as the proposed increases are not realistic in comparison to those in the business community. As well as the economic struggle that is faced each day by the community. The salary/wage/benefits of the City should be compared with data from this community and not with that of other municipalities as they have other influencing factors which may not be consistent with this community, (i.e. tax base).

    Additionally, there should be an in depth review as to the necessity of any and all departments as well as current staffing levels in all departments with the goal of uncovering further efficiencies. 

    Council must also be setting the example of working cohesively to ensure that the final budget is in fact realistic and perceived as being realistic to the community as a whole.

A question has arisen from the budget document as well as from many discussions regarding the new aquatics centre. What is the consequence to the community in the event that the funds being budgeted for; from the community fundraising are not achieved? Does this translate to yet a further tax increase?

    An initiative called the “Road to Prosperity” was completed with a report being submitted to Council; what has occurred that these recommendations have not been followed or implemented to date?

    We as a Chamber of Commerce desire to see the Wetaskiwin City Council take into consideration the recommendations and comments of above and take immediate action to review and provide direction so as to achieve a budget that is sustainable and responsible given our current economic climate and community.

Ruecker states we need to increase pay to keep City employees

    Alderman Ruecker concluded the discussions with the Chamber by providing his views on why it is necessary to increase the pay of City employees (budget item at 1% increase in pay). His explanation is that employees are your most valuable asset and we need to pay them more to prevent them from going to the competition. (Reporters comments – Although this is partially true and there is considerable research that verifies the extensive costs associated with replacing workers, there is also extensive research that verifies that employers must use incentives other than money to keep them with the organization. In today’s world, the best people are always in demand and will seek and take other opportunities. There was a time when employees could be retained by paying them more and adding perks but today’s workforce is too mobile to think money is the driving force that will keep them with an organization. Increase their salary by 1% and then tax them 9.2% as a retention strategy??)

    The public is invited to attend re-budget debates on February 19th commencing at 9:00 am at City Hall. Wetaskiwin City Council invites the public to attend their meetings in Council Chambers (4705 – 50 Ave). For more detailed information contact City Manager, Ted Gillespie at 780-361-4400.