The new year brings a return to the budget process for Brantford city council.
On Jan. 15, councillors will hear from community groups looking for financial support. Council must also decide whether to free up money for the unmet needs of city departments while maintaining a targeted 2.36 per cent overall budget increase.
One of those unmet needs includes hiring an independent financial auditor.
To help council meet its financial targets in future years, Coun. John Utley said he hopes councillors vote to hire the auditor, who would report directly to council and work with staff “to identify and implement cost-saving initiatives.”
If funding for the auditor is approved in the 2013 budget, the certified accountant’s role would be to review specific programs and services to ensure that money is being spent efficiently.
Mayor Chris Friel supports the idea as a way to generate objective financial advice that will help council craft realistic and effective budgets.
In his annual address, Friel called the taxpayers’ bill of rights – which mandates public meetings for specific tax-hike thresholds – and council’s shift to multi-year budgeting “the foundation for an incredibly progressive approach to budgeting in our city.”
Coun. Jan Vanderstelt said he is all for public engagement, but that the bill of rights will be a hollow document if residents are not informed about the full costs of projects, such as defending the waterfront master plan and renovating the Gretzky centre.
“I would say that the taxpayers’ bill of rights should include consultation as to the full cost of council’s projects,” Vanderstelt said.
Vanderstelt thinks the city needs to better manage casino funds in case that source of revenue should one day dry up. He would like to see council use the proceeds from a revenue-sharing agreement with OLG to create an annuity fund. The interest from the fund would provide income to the city in perpetuity, rather than see all the funds spent every year.
“The way we’ve been pre-spending on legacy projects isn’t necessarily healthy,” Vanderstelt said. “Now’s the time to save for any rainy days we have in the future.”