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.