Broomhead, Maieron seek changes to county council’s budget methods

County coun­cillor Mike Broomhead said, “We asked the same question, but he was on one end of the rope and I was on the other.”

County councillor Lou Maie­ron, who runs a fish farm said, “Mike was trying to fillet a fish from one angle, and I was trying to do it from another.”

Both councillors gave noti­ces of motions at the Jan. 29 council meeting that will ask council to debate how it sets its bud­gets and what should hap­pen to budget surpluses.

Maieron moved that county council abandon its current prac­tice of placing budget surpluses into the property re­serve account each year. He also asked that any surplus in one year’s budget be forwarded to the next year’s budget.

Broomhead, who served the past three years as chairman of the finance committee, said he has been uncomfortable about the county consistently under­estimating its revenues.

“We always underestimate our revenue. We call it a sur­plus. It’s almost like budgeting for a surplus,” he said. He asked that the county obtain a report on the surpluses back to 2005.

Broomhead said in an in­terview the next day coun­cil should attempt to bud­get more accurately, and if it needs extra money for a capital pro­ject, it should discuss that issue and place the costs in the budget.

“You should try to budget as close as you can,” Broomhead said. “If you want to put money into reserves, you should bud­get for reserves.”

Maieron said when the surplus cash is placed into a property reserve account, many councillors seem to treat that money as a savings ac­count, and they then have no diffi­culty spending that reserve on such things as libraries.

He said the county should send unspent money to the de­partments that were able to generate it or save it, and that way, needed operating costs are not being paid twice through taxes. He said if there is a pro­gram to be paid for and the sur­plus has gone into a reserve account, council still has to strike its budget and tax resi­dents in order to pay for operating programs, when the money was already collected and available.

Maieron said in an inter­view  many muni­ci­palities use a capital and oper­at­ing budget, but Wellington instead uses a five-year plan and funds major projects from its property reserve accounts. He said if councillors were forced to consider tax impacts on capital projects instead of simply pulling money from that reserve account, there would be much more debate on such projects. He noted that at the last county council meeting, council approved changes to the Puslinch Township library, but whether it is a new one or renovations, he is not sure.

“A lot of stuff is funded through capital reserves,” he said.

He added, too, that if the county is planning a large expenditure, it should levy taxes for a reserve account, save the money, and do the project when it is available. He noted, though, there was next to no debate about the latest Puslinch library recom­mendation.

Neither councillor suggest­ed that taxes would go up or down with the proposed chan­ges, just that council would be changing the way it does its budgeting.

Maieron said, “Broomhead and I have been harping on this.” But, he added, “We didn’t collude. It was done in­di­vidually.”