Letter: Informed decisions, sound process vital for coming budget process

Oak Bay council faces tough challenges with coming budgets and priority-setting

This fall council faces the challenge of setting priorities for 2017-2018. Not easy, considering the pressure to keep taxes low enough to please you and me. From a procedural perspective it’s been common practice in Oak Bay to plan and budget for council priorities separately from the district’s core services-those related to daily operations and infrastructure maintenance.

The bulk of taxpayers’ money goes to municipal services. The budgeting process for services is not what council will discuss this coming November. That will be dealt with next year. I urge interested residents to attend spring’s Estimates meetings. Have your voice heard. Make your case solid with good information and facts.

The current ‘two-tier’ planning and budgeting model – one for council priorities and one for the provision of municipal services – is far from perfect. Since planning is done separately, council priorities can distance themselves from a broader interdepartmental plan, and both can vary from a multi-year municipal strategic plan.

Some things difficult to pin down with this approach: Where do council priorities come from? Do they spring from the implementation of OCP? Do they reflect campaign promises? Will they eventually become the base for projects planned for five years from now? Council currently juggles about nine separately priorities, all ‘in progress,’ some of which have been carried forward. How do these priorities relate to the ones to be submitted by each department during Estimates?

Setting priorities means taking one step this year, another step next year, each step built on the other. Avoiding randomness reduces duplication of efforts, saves money and moves us forward as one organized body.  Although one needs room for the unexpected, we all know that decisions made out of the blue often result in regretful consequences for years to come. A clear example is how capital priorities have been handled. They have significant financial impact over a number of years – now more than ever with the Uplands sewer separation endeavour. An integrated approach between council priorities and the whole municipality would be one in which council would prioritize an asset management strategy. Capital projects will likely require tough decisions during Estimates next year and beyond – a solid asset management plan would help council make wiser decisions, plan for the future and save taxpayers’ money.

Lastly, council must strive to make informed decisions in November. It’s vital that staff provides financial data, performance measures, historical spending and trends on future operations in an easily understood format. Councillors are politicians. Their decisions will affect the taxes that we pay.

James Sultanum

Oak Bay