December 10, 2018
Budget Speech: Check Against Delivery
First of all, I want to recognize the in-depth and robust public engagement process and internal Council process we undertook with respect to this budget, and thank Councillor Lane, Mayor Breen and staff for leading that.
Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time reviewing the City’s budget. My list of questions has been very long and I continue to peel the budget and programs apart. I have looked and continue to look for savings and new approaches. This will remain my intention and approach going forward.
What we do see with this budget and the approach of this Council, is a greater effort and focus on the long-term. There are key decisions in here that will begin to shift the balance. It’s difficult to draw a straight line from the changes we are enacting, and the change in approach: whether to the development regulations, the budget, or to overarching directions like the Strategic Plan or the Healthy Cities Strategy; but these will have significant impacts.
Through the budget process, as much as as I have heard my constituents say they don’t want us to raise taxes, I have heard, as loud and as clear, the value people have for the services that are provided. Everyone might not value every service, but all are valued.
It is unfortunate to raise the mill rate. However, the trade off of the increase vs. the pain to many residents and businesses of making significant service cuts is one that I believe we had to make. Making deep cuts to the quality or range of services such as Housing, Recreation, public transit, or others would have had long-term negative impacts. The property tax system is challenging to ensure is fair, but I believe we have balanced the many, sometimes competing, needs today.
I try and scrutinize every dollar. A taxi driver once told me that he pays his families taxes each year by saving up the loonies and toonies that have a special image on them - the Canadian Mint is creating them all the time. I’ll continue to view the budget in this way. A $304 million budget is large, but it is made up of single dollars that come from hard working residents and businesses. Each dollar must be spent to maximize value for residents and create an environment and City where business and residents can succeed. I’ll continue to scrutinize every dollar and push for policy changes to produce better results. To shift priorities where possible and where demanded by my constituents.
Regarding St. John’s Sports and Entertainment. I’m bought into the value of the Convention Centre and the economic activity this generates and the asset this facility is to the City and region. I believe that money is well spent for the value it provides. I’m also excited that Mile One Centre is busy with two spots teams and an active events calendar. However, I am keenly interested in the pursuit of either third party management of the facility or private sector ownership, as long as there are protections of the asset and protections for the taxpayers of the City.
As a Councillor, I’m Lead for Public Works and Sustainability. Over the past year I have spent many hours pouring over the budget on my own and with staff. I’m committed to continue to pursue creative, cost effective approaches, but I am quite confident in the delivery of these services, whether Parks and Open Spaces, snow-clearing, garbage and recycling collection, water treatment and others.
I’m particularly proud of our increased $150,000 on sidewalk snow clearing and along with that, the creative approach we have taken to improve sidewalk snow clearing within existing resources. Through public conversation and the citizen satisfaction survey, this quickly came to the top as an issue of focus for my constituents.
We have also maintained our street snow clearing budget, as residents and businesses can attest to this past week, having the fleet and staff we have is key.
In 2019 we are also continuing our advance of automated garbage collection to much of the rest of the City. This is a great improvement to current practice and I look forward to thousands more households having access to this improved and cost efficient service.
I’m also proud of our continued grant to Metrobus and GoBus. Metrobus delivers nearly 3 million rides, with a 3.94% growth in ridership in 2018. Taking upwards of 7,000 cars off the road every day. This is very substantial. The greater independence allowed by providing 135,000 annual rides on GoBus is immensely valuable to those who use it and the broader community. There’s much potential and I look forward to the recommendations from the system review so that we can continue working to improve public transit and ensure it is very good value for the money spent.
Our new investment in a staff resource to focus on sustainability and climate change is absolutely essential. Climate change is the world’s greatest challenge and we must do our part. Climate change is and will have impact on our city. We must mitigate and adapt to our changing world.
I will also be very excited to see residents connecting, playing games and sports, and much more at the Kenmount Terrace Community Centre. Staff will be dedicated to that facility with strong programs to ensure this facility is very well used. I know the residents are anxious to enjoy it.
Finding balance is challenging, but I feel we have come to a good place.
I am voting in favour of this budget. And I will continue to push for improvement and provide effective scrutiny to our budget and operations.