Canmore council jumping shark with budget process
Thursday, Nov 24, 2016 09:28 am
It isn’t a big stretch to imagine why Canmore’s elected officials approved a new budget process this year to consider two years at a time – it is sound fiscal advice to plan into the future.
In fact, Municipal Affairs has suggested (and could legislate): “A long-range capital plan, covering three to five years, should be in place. Three-year operating budgets are also recommended.”
But when that future contains a municipal election within it, the question will be asked whether or not council is making decisions for a future it doesn’t actually have a democratic mandate for.
October 2017 is the next municipal election and right now Canmore council is considering a 2017-18 operational and capital approval.
Usually, elected officials approve year at a time operational budgets, are presented a five-year capital plan and approve one year of that at a time. With direction from the province that longer financial planning timeframes are recommended, this year is the first time a two-year approval has been suggested and accepted.
The direction is, well, vague on details and clearly values considering multiple years of financial planning for municipal leaders. But it does not speak to what councils should approve.
When this council has for several years been considering a five-year capital plan, then approving one year at a time, there were no difficulties and financial prudence was served.
So why not continue this practice and replicate it with the operating budget, where council is always considering financial planning considerations three years at a time, but only approving budgets one year at a time?
There is also the generally accepted notion that a sitting council cannot make decisions for a future council, or tie its hands, so to speak. We elect, democratically, municipal politicians for their term in office of four years. A council’s decisions may affect the future, but they don’t make future decisions.
The mayor is in office now, having been elected in 2013 – but that does not automatically make him the mayor of this community in 2018 and the same goes for councillors. If they want to approve 2018 budgets – run for re-election.
For Canmore council to approve a two-year budget, it is basically saying to the next council “these decisions have already been made for you.” How are those newly elected officials going to feel about that?
The response to that from officials is, of course, that future councils of the day can change a budget, reverse decisions, or make new ones.
That, we would submit, is not good municipal government financial planning. If they don’t like it, they can change it?
What about the notion that a newly elected council should make the decisions to begin with, not have to rescind motions and undo work that administration will likely undertake in 2017 in preparation of 2018 approvals?
We’re not saying that administration shouldn’t be presenting a 2017-18 budget – we’re questioning whether this council has the authority to approve a 2018 budget because there are real implications to that decision.
A three-year operational plan is a great thing, and great information, but the MGA only states councils must adopt an operating budget and capital budget for each calendar year.
It is up to the citizens of Canmore to let their elected officials know whether we support the process or not. Certainly somebody is going to make this an election issue and we’d rather avoid the fiscal wedge and focus on real issues next October.