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Barrie councillors call for budget transparency

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In Barrie
Jan 29th, 2010
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BARRIE – Next year, senior Barrie staff will have to be more honest and transparent in crafting the budget, a new council directive says.
As city staff presented a $424-million budget that abided by a council instruction to keep the tax increase to 2.4 per cent, they had assured council there were no job cuts or service-level changes that weren’t flagged by ‘program-changed’ forms.
Councillors call for budget transparency
By Laurie Watt Barrie Advance
BARRIE – Next year, senior Barrie staff will have to be more honest and transparent in crafting the budget, a new council directive says.
As city staff presented a $424-million budget that abided by a council instruction to keep the tax increase to 2.4 per cent, they had assured council there were no job cuts or service-level changes that weren’t flagged by ‘program-changed’ formsThat, however, was untrue.
Councillors quickly picked up on the elimination of a free 100-kg allowance at the dump – and they moved to reinstate the environmental directive they set last year, after reducing the allowance from 500 kg.
But the proposal to sink lifeguards was deeper in the document – and councillors almost missed the $40,000 item that would have changed the city’s long-standing practice of providing supervision at Centennial and Johnson’s beaches.
“I don’t like to find out on the street about a major change in a health and safety issue in Barrie,” said Ward 1 Coun. Mike Ramsay, who called on his colleagues to rescue the beachfront staff.
Ward 6 Coun. Michael Prowse was equally concerned.
“The question has to be asked: how does that decision not get made in this chamber? This is a question for Mr. (Jon) Babulic and his executive management team. It’s not the only issue,” said Prowse, who proposed the city continue with its policy of the free 100-kg allowance at the landfill.
Both the lifeguards and the 100-kg allowance survived.
Last week, corporate services commissioner Ed Archer explained how the budget adheres to council’s directive to limit a tax increase to 2.4 per cent. He noted staff focused on doing “what matters most.”
But the end didn’t justify the means for council.
And Ward 2 Coun. Jeff Lehman – who chairs the city’s finance committee – wants to make sure there’s not a repeat next year.
“I was particularly concerned about the lifeguard issue. In all future budgets, such circumstances will not occur again,” he said, as he proposed a motion requiring a report on how staff will change the way it conducts budget business.
“I would hope staff see it as part of our continuous improvement initiative.”
The motion passed unanimously, and a report is due in the spring.

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