Proposed County budget deferred for another month
by: Sheila O’Hearn
By Sheila O’Hearn 3/3/2004
Although reporters didn’t get their agendas for the Wellington County meeting, held Thursday, February 26th, or a copy of the proposed 2004 draft budget that was to be voted on at that meeting, they did view a heated debate among councillors in the chamber of the Guelph Administrative Centre. Conclusion: the budget will go back to the old drawing board. The result, after two hours of hurt feelings and a stand-off by two new councillors, Andrew Johnson (County Ward 6) and Mayor Mike Broomhead (Wellington North) was a deferred budget with its proposed 13.9 per cent tax increase (tax impact to an average residence: $187), adding up to a $49.9-million-dollar tax levy and a spending budget of $130 million. The aim of the deferral is to help new councillors get a handle on the budgetary details and to attempt to make cuts. “13.9 per cent is too significant.” said CW Mayor Russ Spicer to council. “In Centre Wellington, that would mean one-third of our budget. We need to consider reducing. It should be discussed.” Councillor Lou Maieron of County Ward 9 said that “due process was not necessarily followed,” arguing that council “got onto other topics.” Motions or commotion? After a lengthy ordeal of making several motions to amend the budget in what appeared to be a last-ditch effort to shed some dollars as a committee-of-the-whole, the result (to be reversed soon after) was as follows: -subtract $100,000 for the road rationalization study; -remove an expenditure of $356,000 for the health unit. -subtract bio-solids study at $34,000; -add $125,000 proposed to fund alternatives to transfer stations; -subtract library study at $25,000. The changes, if approved at a later meeting, would still leave the tax increase at 13.08 per cent. After further complaints about too many motions on the floor, including the two motions to defer, some councillors became upset. “We are clearly confused by what’s taking place,” said Johnson. “I’m totally confused by the motions and seconds,” Councillor Sherry Clarke (County Ward 5) echoed. “There’s not a chance I’ll go back to my council with (this budget),” said Broomhead. “Anything in a double-digit figure is unacceptable.” AF&P chair Rod Finnie reminded councillors that they had time to indicate suggestions to cut the budget. “It’s incumbent upon councillors to indicate cuts to be made. So tell me, where would you like budgets to change?” Not so fast Although Johnson and other councillors said that they appreciated the work done by staff and the AF&P, he contended that the finances hadn’t been properly debated. “It’s not fair,” said Johnson, lamenting the role of new councillors, “New members would like to have the same advantage as (long-time councillors familiar with issues and costs), but we need time. You say you want to have a team, then give us the time. Encourage the “old boys” to come along with you.” “Well, I’m a new kid on the block,” Clarke retorted, “I called staff; I asked for clarification; I asked what can we reduce. I’ve done my homework. We need to inform the public that it’s the downloading from the province (causing the inflation). How do we cut (the budget) when people demand a certain level of service?” “I’m a little offended,” Broomhead said in response. “I deserve more respect. I’ve been in politics for 16 years. I’ve been around many a budget table. That’s why I say we need to bring (the budget) back to the committees. Pointing fingers won’t help.” “I’m not sure we should push this thing through,” said new councillor Clint Martin, who suggested that certain details of the budget be discussed in camera, “but I go along with Councillor Clarke with regards to downloading.” Meanwhile, Warden Lynda White sought direction from County clerk Scott Wilson regarding guidelines on council protocol; Wilson, in turn, was called to task on more than one occasion by Johnson. The motion to defer was not an easy process. Johnson said in a brief phone interview, that division among councillors was evident at the AF&P meeting held before the council session. Johnson wanted to defer approval, complaining that councillors needed more time to explore and understand the 136-page document, and made a motion to that effect. Broomhead rose before council and made the motion that the 2004 budget go back to each committee with the task of cutting costs. “A double-digit tax levy,” he said, “is not acceptable.” Clarke argued that the budget should be voted on as is. An option of two motions remained: to go back to the original idea of deferring the budget or defeating the motion to approve the budget as it stood. Seasoned councillor, John Green recommended re-applying the motion to defer the budget for a month to give that time to new councillors. “It would enhance understanding for new members of council. For the good of the county, we should consider this. Deferral is better than a rejection of budget, even if the budget comes back the same. The motion met with the approval of 12 councillors, with three against it. The next meeting on the 2004 budget will take place as a committee-of-the-whole on Wednesday, March 24th, at 12:30 p.m. in Council Chambers, Guelph. The public is welcome to attend.