Council rejects one budget proposal, sends another to committee

County coun­cil rejected chan­ges to the current policy of where it puts sur­pluses.

Councillors Mike Broom­head and Lou Maieron gave notice of motion at the previous meeting. Broomhead wanted to determine if council is budgeting to create surpluses.

Maieron moved the county abandon its pol­icy of forwarding annual budget surpluses to the property reserve fund; but if surpluses exist at year end, they be allocated into the coming year’s budget where that surplus originated.

His motion added that “a stimulus [reward] cri­teria be introduced to encour­age staff to find savings and efficiencies in their annual budgets.”

Maieron’s motion was con­sid­ered first, and councillor Lynda White stated she would not support it.

“I firmly believe staff are already rewarded,” White said. “It’s called a salary. That’s their job, and they do it well.”

Maie­ron said sending the money to reserves prevents debate on if projects should be done, because the money is available, but he feels it is an unjust tax on residents.

White said council decides each year what to do with it.

Maieron said the reason the money should be returned to the department “whence it came” is nobody should lose de­partmental budget cash sim­ply because they manage to not spend some of it in one year.

He said if council asks tax­payers for $3-million and uses only $2-million, the extra should be placed into the next year’s budget instead of the reserve, so taxpayers are not taxed twice. “When we take the operating budget surplus, it’s almost like we planned it.”

Councillor Brad Whit­combe refused to support the motion. He said staff con­sider numerous things, and try to maintain financial “robust­ness. We look at the surplus each year.”

Councillor Chris White asked Maieron, “What particu­lar items do you believe are plan­ned surpluses.”

Maieron said he could not answer that, but they seem to occur every year.

White said, “This thing [the budget] is a moving target. If it’s that transparent in 2009, we could pick those line items out.”

Councillor Rod Finnie said extra money left at the end of the year is “not planned surplus – just surpluses.”

Broomhead supported Maie­­ron’s main proposal but  “I can’t see giving rewards.”

That part of the motion was eventually withdrawn.

But, Broomhead said, council has “created a trend” of surpluses, and he does not like the idea of “rolling them over.”

He said with ex­cess cash in reserves, “That surplus is driving the five year capital plan. If there is no sur­plus it could be a disaster for our five year plan.”

Broomhead said he would like it “clearly spelled out” how the county is paying for items such as libraries, and if $20-million is needed, council should say that, and start saving for it.

“Call it what it is,” he said.

Councillor Chris White asked if any mayors on council roll over their surpluses in their municipalities like the county does.

Finnie said Erin council does.

Councillor Bob Wilson said the motions are very similar in intent.

But, he added, there are times when surpluses disap­pear. “We shouldn’t assume they’ll be there every year.”

Treasurer Craig Dyer said that from a capital spending per­spective, such surpluses allowed the county to build such things as the Rockwood police station and some libra­ries.

Wilson said the money simply got “stuck” in reserves when times were good. “It’s not accurate to say they drive the five year plan.”

When Maieron’s motion was voted on, it was defeated with only Maieron, Finnie, and councillor Jean Innes in favour.

Council then considered Broomhead’s motion, and it too, with defeated, with only Broomhead, Maieron, and Fin­nie in favour.