Sault Ste. Marie Budget 2019: have your say

With the public feedback window for the City’s 2019 budget now open, I want to encourage residents to submit feedback.

This chart includes the numbers behind the property tax increases over the last four budgets:Tax chartThe first column (City) represents the City’s budget and any increase related to it.

The second column (External) is the operational funding the City is obligated to provide to external boards and agencies. Some examples include the Police Service Board, the Library Board and Algoma Public Health.

The third column (Surplus/Reserve) occurs when surplus funds are used for operations or a tax increase is deferred in a previous year.

An additional outside factor that plays a significant part of the budgetary process is the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) grant, which is annually provided by the Provincial Government. The City’s share for the past year was $15,455,200. The year-to-year fluctuation of this grant is out of the City’s control, but dealing with the fallout remains our responsibility. For example, if the City’s OMPF grant is reduced by $1 million for the coming year, this is $1 million we need to account for.

So, taking into consideration the factors that are outside of Council’s budgeting (like the OMPF grant and board/agency funding) I want to get to the most significant impact Council has on the budgetary process: City spending.

City spending is an issue the past term of Council worked hard to address. For example, of the course of the past four-year term, the City’s budgeted expenditures declined by $2 million. To give you an example of some of the measures that led to the decline, this includes: freezing the honorariums of Mayor and City Council, freezing the salary of non-union employees and the implementation of a vacancy management plan and a job-gapping policy to reduce labour costs.

Public spending of your tax dollars needs to be reflective of the economic reality facing tax payers. However, there is a balance we need to maintain. There are services our City provides; from snow removal, to garbage collection, to the maintenance of local roads and public transportation. We want to ensure we are providing an appropriate level of service to residents, while keeping taxation manageable. For a lot of people, any tax increase is difficult to deal with, and this is something I appreciate and understand.

As a means to ensure a responsible balance between taxation and services, Council analyzes the preliminary budget, discusses areas of concern and identifies opportunities to save money. I feel Council is now able to perform this task more effectively because of important budgetary changes made during the past term. We have changed the start of the City’s budgetary process from the first quarter (spring) to the fourth (fall); with this schedule adjusted in an election year to allow the newly elected Council to make budgetary decisions. The primary goal of this change was to finalize the budget before the start of the first quarter, which allows Council to have more of an impact because we aren’t attempting to make changes on the fly with the first quarter already well underway.

I hope the aforementioned information helps further residents’ understanding of the City’s budget and assists with providing feedback for the upcoming budget. On that note, I want to highlight the options to submit feedback.

There will be an open house budget session on Wednesday, January 16, 2019 from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. at the Civic Centre. Staff will be available to discuss and answer questions on a one-on-one basis.

Through email (budgetinput@cityssm.on.ca) and on social media (@CitySSM #saultbudget) people can provide feedback. Additionally, the City’s online budget input tool enables taxpayers to indicate the areas where they would like to see tax dollars utilized and provide feedback. It is displayed below.input

With the way people communicate changing and less-and-less people attending open houses, this past term of Council made considerable efforts to shift to a more digitally focused approach. The budget input tool is a product of this approach, and the work of the Finance Committee. It allows people to distribute their property taxes to different departments/services as they see fit, and it shows users the impact on the potential taxes they would pay as a result. It is a great way for the City to not only obtain feedback, but to further residents understanding of how our budgetary process works.