TODAY'S LETTER: Heads the city wins and tails North Bay taxpayers lose

'The game being played by council, on the advice of staff, an exercise in semantics designed to confuse the public'

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To the editor:

It looks like déjà vu all over again after this year’s water budget meetings.

Tuesday evening, engineering and works committee chairman Mike Anthony’s motion to apply a portion of the anticipated 2018 water and waste water surplus to reduce this year’s water budget was panned by his committee members Scott Robertson, Marcus Tignanelli and Mayor Al McDonald.

I believe most citizens assumed their recent campaign promises to come together for a more cohesive council was meant to benefit taxpayers. It appears as if it’s going to be the same old routine, which is to retain all surpluses and then listen to the mayor brag about how much money is in the city’s bank accounts.

If Anthony’s motion is passed, staff suggests the budget will increase by one per cent which, at first glance, would appear to be reasonable. What staff fails to mention is that the increase is one per cent over last year’s budget figures, not last year’s actual figures.

Since we already know that last year’s budget figures were too high by $925,000 this means the budget increase is actually 5.5 per cent. There is no reason why council cannot wait to set the budget until after the final 2018 figures are known and the results compared to actual instead of an inaccurate guesstimate made 12 months ago. This would provide water users with a clear picture of the water department operations.

Reserves are necessary to protect current taxpayers from unforeseen negative events and are to be used to alleviate unexpected spikes in the tax burden arising from those events.

The amount of accumulated reserves should be based on past experiences and reasonable estimates of the costs of possible future harmful events.

Council is being influenced by staff, who suggest that reducing budgets by using past surpluses will affect future budgets since the surplus funds will not be available for the following year.

This may be true in a mathematical sense, but since budgeting is not an exact science, the case may be that there is a larger surplus in the following year, which will be available.

The game being played by council, on the advice of staff, amounts to: Heads the city wins and tails the taxpayers lose. This is an exercise in semantics designed to confuse the public.

Additionally, this reasoning did not seem to be a concern when the mayor and CFO decided to approve $6 million in long-term borrowing to reduce general operating expenses back in 2016.

The average annual salary and benefit package in the water and waste water departments is approximately $137,000, which is a 1.6 per cent increase from last year. Is there anyone of the opinion that this level of compensation is reasonable and can continue?

The way to have any hope to attract citizens and businesses to a region is to demonstrate a fiscal responsibility which would make it an affordable place to live and do business.

This current nonsense about population increases of thousands if we all “row in the same direction” while at the same time ignoring basic financial principles is just that. Any person or company considering North Bay who was looking at the performances at Tuesday’s meeting would not have been impressed.

D. Rennick
North Bay

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