City listens to budget suggestions

Dave Bartlett
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Improved sidewalk snowclearing, city auditor general among ideas

Ward 1 Coun. Danny Breen, chairman of the city of St. John’s finance committee (at podium) and city manager Bob Smart (seated) listen to comments and suggestions from the public on what the city should consider when making its 2012 budget. About 25 people attended the city’s pre-budget consultations Tuesday evening at city hall. — Photo by Dave Bartlett/The Telegram

The dominant topic at a City of St. John’s pre-budget consultation Tuesday evening was putting more money toward sidewalk snowclearing.

It was the first issue raised and was brought up a number of times over the hour or so that councillors and city staff spent listening to suggestions from the public and interest groups on how the city should spend its money this coming year.

The city’s director of finance, Bob Bishop, gave a quick overview of the budget, the city’s ongoing expenses and how expenditures are prioritized before moderator Ward 1 Coun. Danny Breen opened up the floor for comments.

Breen is also the chairman of the city’s finance committee.

Bill Maddigan was the first to speak. He said from his perspective the city does not give enough priority to “lowly pedestrians,” who choose or are forced to walk in the city during the winter months.

He noted two women were hit on Topsail Road last year near the Village mall when the sidewalks had yet to be plowed.

Maddigan said he considers sidewalk snow clearing a core service the city should provide. He also noted people can’t even safely wait for a bus when there is no sidewalk to stand on.

Sherwin Flight also brought up the issue and said it would be cheaper to keep sidewalks clear than the liability costs the city may be on the hook for if people are injured or killed when forced to walk on the streets.

Another issue raised several times was about the consultation process itself.

Andrew Harvey said there should be more ways for people to contribute to the process and have their ideas and concerns heard.

He also said consultations should be happening year ‘round and not only once, just weeks before the budget will be tabled for council’s approval.

“I would like to see a much more robust public process,” Harvey said.

He also suggested a pot of money, maybe in the parks and recreation budget, be set aside for citizens to directly decide how it should be spent.

When Breen thanked Harvey for his suggestions, he noted that he gets emails everyday from people commenting on how the city should or should not be spending taxpayers’ money.

“Residents of St. John’s aren’t shy,” said the councillor.

The CEO of the St. John’s Board of Trade Nancy Healey highlighted three things the board wants the city to keep in mind when planning the 2012 budget.

First, she said the city has to get a better handle on the current growth of its spending, which she called unsustainable.

“We need to curtail spending and live within our means,” Healey told the members of council present.

The board also wants the city to curb urban sprawl to keep the costs of essential services in check and to have more fairness both for city tax payers, and in the way the province funds the capital city.

Simon Lono, who’s run for council in the past, raised two issues, which he said he’s been bringing up at these pre-budget consultations for the last three years.

The first was the lack of information available to people on how the city spends its money.

“You do not provide enough information on which to provide quality input,” Lono said.

He said even scanning the paper version of the budget and posting it in PDF form on the city’s website would be better than nothing.

Lono also renewed calls for the city to hire a fiscal watchdog.

“You folks need a municipal auditor general,” he said. “It’s no longer an option.”

Lono said many other cities in Canada have AGs which give residents a clearer picture of how and where money is, and should be, spent.

dbartlett@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Board of Trade Nancy Healey

Geographic location: Topsail Road, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Bill
    November 02, 2011 - 15:30

    The City has to live within its means. So lets cut the fat and hold the line on property tax increases.

  • Joseph McGrath
    November 02, 2011 - 12:46

    The last thing the city needs is a postion called Auditor General.As I understand things now there is internal audit there and that along with external audit should be more than enough to control public spending in accordance with the approved budget.What the city has to do is live within its means.It should be looking at programs or overtime and general payroll to ensure it toes the line and gets value for the money it pays out.Overall I believe the City councillors are doing a good job and their target this year ought to be to hold the line on tax increases.When we see the 2012 budget we will know this.They have a small surplus so far and if the snow holds off the city should be in balance budget wise.As a taxpayer I do really wonder if adjoining municipalities like Mount Pearl pay fairly for some services administered through the city.That would apply to other incorporated areas as well.We can't build a wall around the city but we can invoice properly for services rendered if this is not being calculated properly.It is also time for the Province to force the next door municipalities to join the city as is it truly a laugh to see at least 3 other municipal halls within 15 minutes drive of our city hall.Don't hold your breath though,as the bloated Provincal government MHA numbers is a disgrace to behold in governing just about 525,000 citizens.We must be a laughing stock for other CanadiansWe are goverened to death by MHAs who do not even go to the House to do their elected duty.Go figure???

  • Townie
    November 02, 2011 - 07:57

    We need to cut back so is the City ensuring that it tenders for work and services outside the City and the Province. Only then can we be sure we are getting the best price. Using only inefficient city businesses is a sure way to get the highest price. By the way did anyone ask Danny Boy if he is going to vote against the budget this year now that he is Chair of the Finance Committee.

  • Wild Rose
    November 02, 2011 - 07:00

    We need to cut back and give the taxpayers a break. In the US many cities and towns are getting rid of overpaid union "workers," and hiring them back through workfare schemes for little to no cost. The only reason we cant do that here is because the policians are to cowardly to do the right thing and the unions are to powerful.

    • mary
      November 02, 2011 - 11:52

      Hat's off to Bill Madigan, I couldn't have said it better. Walking on our sidewalks, in this town means taking your life in your hands, they're disgusting,not everybody drives a car,and we should all be able to get out,and enjoy winter, if we choose to.