This year’s budget numbers are almost tallied and it looks like St. John’s city council will have to juggle to balance a $5-million deficit.
After Monday night’s regular council meeting, Bob Bishop, the city’s director of finance, gave a brief update on the city’s finances and outlined the numbers.
He said all the department heads have reviewed their budgets and needs, and council has also reviewed the numbers.
Bishop said department re-quests totalled $224 million — up $18.3 million from 2010 — with revenues totalling $219 million.
The greatest increases came from the public works department at $4.8 million, with salaries and benefits for all city employees making up the biggest single increase of more than $7.5 million.
Those numbers are expected to rise again in 2012.
Bishop said council will have to decide between cutting services and raising taxes.
After the review, Bishop pointed to hard times for the city in 1995 when property values dropped dramatically, as did the corresponding tax levels.
Things like hours of service for park patrols and snowclearing were sacrificed, Bishop said.
“Council has to look at their priorities. There are a lot of services — I don’t want to guess what council is going to do — but there are a lot of services provided that are not infrastructure-based,” Bishop said, meaning there are things to be cut from the bottom of the list that don’t have anything to do with previously paid for machinery or technology.
“Council makes its decisions and all I can do is advise them,” he says, refusing to talk about the advice he offers in private meetings.
“The numbers are stark and we need to take action now to control our spending or we will face even more difficult budgets in the future.” - Derek Sullivan, President of the St. John's Board of Trade
Derek Sullivan, president of the St. John’s Board of Trade, said the city simply has to rein in spending.
“Looking at another nine per cent growth again in the coming year, he said, “And that continues to be a concern for us because we believe the growth in spending needs to be to be kept more in check.
“The numbers are stark and we need to take action now to control our spending or we will face even more difficult budgets in the future,” Sullivan said.
Several members of the board of trade attended the council meeting specifically for Bishop’s annual state of the budget address.
Sullivan said residents and businesses in the city have had their taxes doubled in the last few years and he can’t recommend tax increases as a solution to the problem.
Rather, he said, the city should look at how it delivers services and see if there aren’t efficiencies to be made.
“We took a long-term view and we’ve been advocating this position of fiscal restraint for a number of years now,” he said.
The board will provide a submission to the public consultation process Nov. 8.
Bishop also used the presentation to encourage people to come to the public consultation to have their say and offer ideas.
The city's budget process started in July and continued through the summer with the committees of council looking at each of the line items in their budgets.
The city will officially set down the budget and mill rates Dec. 15.