The first budget for the new Council term of 2014 to 2018 is almost over for Ontario municipalities. Many municipalities have either completed their budgets or are nearing the final decision dates as we move into April.
The first budget of a new Council is always interesting as the direction depends significantly on the number of new Councillors that have joined the table. For those municipalities with little or no change, the process has been straight forward as the team continues on its set course from the previous term.
With a little more turnover however new ideas come and new discussions take place. This is both an interesting and sometimes challenging environment to be in for both staff and Council. The team want to start off on the right foot while respecting the momentum of the previous Council (or not). There is a ramp up time as new Councillors hit the road running right into budget discussions. Of course staff have had months to contemplate and prepare these budgets and refocus there efforts on communicating the reams of material.
So is there any advice to be shared from this first budget?
For Councillors, its best to learn as much as you can from staff and bring your community concerns forward for discussion to understand all sides of the questions. There is much to learn for a new member with limited exposure to public process and staff and fellow Councillors are a wealth of knowledge. It is human nature for people to try and solve problems...especially of constituents. But there is also value in seeking the history or back story on an issue or idea. Councillors often have great solutions for perceived problems. But by bringing a solution to staff, it makes it difficult for staff to evaluate what the real issue may be and what unexpected outcomes may potentially occur.
This applies to the budget process as well. Often quick fixes are desired without fully appreciating the cost implications or service level ramifications. This is an important part of the relationship that staff and Council need to understand and develop.
Of course we are all looking to contain ever increasing costs as budgets outstrip inflation. Doing more with less is a way of life in public sector but often the circumstances result on delivering less service for more cost. The best advise I have to offer on these two perspectives is to be aware of the cost pressures and know where you plan to cut the next dollar if needed. Easy to say but not so easy to do. Some of the things I do in my role is to make cost savings a daily activity through recognized opportunities to "right size" service levels and seek out and eliminate low value services or obsolete practices. Budgeting may be an annual event but budget management is continuous.
What are you thoughts on this annual trial that we all must pass in order to continue to deliver our services?
Related articles across the web