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.”