The bulk of the work we have been doing at council over the first few months of this term pertains to the one-year budget for 2019. I wrote about the Capital Budget in detail earlier this month (https://www.roycebodaly.ca/capital-budget-2019-west-end-projects/) and I thought I would speak to the Operating Budget here. The operating budget was approved with an average increase of 2.2%, total operating budget of $74,964,634. This increase is in line with other municipalities in the Region and beyond. Waterloo’s tax increase came in underneath Kitchener, Cambridge, Guelph and London.
How we got to that number?
The Operating Budget starts by reviewing the Base Budget, comprised of Funding changes (proposed revenue increases for things like recreation services), Efficiency changes (budget reductions found in departments or LED street light savings for example), Commitments (labour changes for example) and Recommendations (inflationary increases to our capital reserves or new positions needed to be filled in order to deal with ongoing City business). This amounted to a 1.1% tax increase in our base budget. Staff provides a budget paper for each line and Council reviews them all to determine its appropriateness and asks questions regarding whether the item is necessary. As an example, I inquired as to the recommendation for a Human Resource Assistant. One of the main issues we are dealing with at the City relates to employee retention, particularly in light of nearly 150 retirees anticipated in the coming years, which makes an HR assistant a necessity.
Operating Impacts of Capital & Growth Budget
The next part of the Operating Budget is a review of Operating Impacts of Capital & Growth Budget, comprised of Commitments (library funding increases allocated to the new East side library), Uncontrollable impacts (maintenance of the new central promenade for example) and Recommended impacts (debt associated with the refurbishment of the Carnegie Library for example). This amounted to a 0.6% tax increase. Again, budget papers are issued for each and Council will review and ask questions as necessary.
Service Level Changes Budget
The third part of the Operating Budget is a review of Service Level Changes Budget, comprised of Increases (transient site cleanup, medical oversight training and implementation of the neighbourhood strategy for example) and Decreases (naturalization strategy implementation and budget true-ups in our parks department for example). This represented a 0.3% tax increase, with the same process of review as above.
Finally, Council reviewed a number of Menu Items that could be activated as we wished in order to increase or decrease the budget based on priorities of our Council. At this time each Councillor could bring forward any of the 18 menu items available for debate and discussion. One of the items I hoped to see implemented was the Director of Strategic Initiatives position. My rationale for wanting to see this implemented was based on our forthcoming strategic plan development/implementation for the next four years. I felt that including this position would better allow us to enact the changes we want to see in our plan and in particular I felt it would be useful to help codify diversity and inclusion into our corporation, which is a top priority for me. Unfortunately, only myself and Mayor Jaworsky were in favour of activating this item, so it will not be implemented for this year’s budget. A number of menu items were activated though; naloxone training for all fire department staff, fleet parts & service specialist, senior project – mechanical engineer and an increase to our cash grants for non-affiliated organizations. In addition to some budget reductions that were enacted, this portion represented approximately 0.3% in tax increase, which is how we got to the final number of 2.2%
Overall, the budget process was extraordinarily helpful to me in order to truly appreciate the scope of what we do at the City and the difficult decisions that need to be made or put off to future years. I am proud and fully supportive of where we got to as a Council for 2019 and I look forward to working on the three-year budget for 2020-2022.
As always, if you have any questions on the 2019 Operating Budget, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a discussion.