Some prudent accounting means the 2013 Brantford budget will likely not include cuts to city services.
City council had declared its intent to raise the operating budget by 2.36 per cent for 2013, but learned during the estimates process that a 4.4 per cent increase was necessary just to maintain existing service levels.
The committee approved three ways presented by treasurer Cathy Brubacher to trim $1.8 million from the budget, bringing the increase down to the target, while sparing services.
The most significant change is breaking with the past practice of depending on dividends from the Brantford Energy group of companies – including Brantford Power – as part of the operating budget. These dividends totaled $1.1 million this year.
Tying “unsecured revenue sources” to the operating budget is fraught with risk since the value of the dividend might end up being less than expected, Brubacher explained.
Moving dividend revenue to the capital budget reduces risk by linking the funds to specific capital projects that can be postponed should the revenue not materialize.
The move could therefore delay planned investments in fire equipment, brownfield initiatives, transit fleet replacement and the future fire and police joint communication system.
The committee also voted to remove $400,000 from information technology services and cut $300,000 in salaries and benefits, including $100,000 for the vacant parks and recreation director position.
Coun. David Neumann opposed all changes after his motion to leave $100,000 in reserve to fund the parks and recreation position was defeated.
Neumann said he was concerned that once the money was removed, council would be hesitant to increase taxes to recoup it. The estimates committee must still consider how to fund roughly $680,000 in unmet needs as identified by staff, and hear from delegations looking for financial support from the city.
Funding these groups or rejecting proposed fee increases would force the city to find other ways to cut spending. Councillors deferred an in-depth review into which services to reduce or eliminate based on staff input and public opinion.
The estimates committee will tackle the “continuum of service” over the coming months with an eye to limit the 2014 budget increase to 1.54 per cent. Members of the public will have the chance to provide input on the budget at two open houses at 2 p.m. at 6 p.m. on Dec. 4 at the Brantford and District Civic Centre.