Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Just a guess, mind you

Why do I get the feeling that the City of Windsor is in for a tax hike this year? A few things are leading me down this path. Several days ago I posted about the Modified Zero Based Budget (MZBB) process being abandoned by City Council. I missed the January 8th Council meeting but I have had several people confirm for me since then that the budget report presented was the last gasp of MZBB in Windsor.

Launched with great fanfare three years ago, the MZBB was touted as one of the answers to Windsor's budget woes. Judging by the press releases and interviews given after each of the last two years budgets, it would seem to have been highly successful. If it was, why are we abandoning it? If it wasn't, were we just having the wool pulled over our eyes?

The process was to have been phased in over three years, with this year being the final year. Some of the biggest budget departments were to join the process this year. Was this a deciding factor in abandoning it? Was this a Council directive or the administration tail wagging the dog again?

There are a lot of buzzwords in the air these days surrounding the new budget process. "People-based Community Strategic Plan", "Four Pillars" , "People Based City Plan" are just some of the examples. I looked at numerous city documents but one phrase I couldn't find anywhere was "Dog and Pony show".

My guess is that the remainder of the budget process is going to go something like this:

1. After the Ward consultation meetings are completed and the results compiled the preliminary budget will be revised to reflect the "peoples priorities". In reality, these budgets have been prepared for a while and various items will be re-named and recatagorized to reflect the peoples priorities.

2. Several options will be presented to council in terms of possible budgets. Let's say increases of 0%, 3%, 6% and 9%. After numerous meetings and much hand-wringing the final budget will be approved with a 4.5% tax hike. The justification will be that in order to meet the "people's priorities" that the City MUST have a tax hike. (Keep an eye out for the Sewer Surcharges and other little details like rebuilding the City Reserves that we've been raiding like a bottomless cookie jar).

The entire package will be presented as the best possible scenario in order to meet the "people's priorities". Remember, you decided and Council is simply delivering on your wishes. Frankly, I think we're going to hear so much about "the people" that we're simply going to forget about the administration's role in the budget process.

On second thought, forget about the "Dog and Pony Show", I think it's just a dog.

Chris Schnurr has a few thoughts on city finances as well.

That just my guess, mind you.