Town shoots down motion calling for five percent budgetary reductions

 

Town Logo Small-webBy Ron Giofu

 

Town council has shot down a motion that would have had department heads target a five percent  reduction in their 2014 budgets.

Even after Councillor Diane Pouget “softened” the wording in her motion, other council members were concerned they would be branded as failures if the departments were unable to meet the five percent target. Pouget, Councillor Bart DiPasquale and Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland voted in favour of the motion while Mayor Wayne Hurst along with councillors John Sutton, Bob Pillon and Carolyn Davies were opposed.

Pouget said the town has the highest debt per person in the area, jobs and industry have been lost while residents pay other “backdoor taxes” through water and wastewater rates. She said her motion gives department heads a “heads up” and that cuts are “far better” to come from them than from council.

“This motion is fair, it’s reasonable and it’s attainable,” said Pouget.

Though he supported the motion, Sutherland believed budgets such as that of the police service would not be able to meet the target due to fixed costs the department has no control over.

“I know full well not every department will be able to comply,” said Sutherland.

Davies questioned that if the motion were to pass, they would “have to ask what services don’t we want to have.” She believed the Texas Road project would be lost and that reserves would not be able to be funded properly.

Pillon said he would “love to see a five percent reduction” but also believed Texas Road would not be doable if that motion were to have passed. He wondered what services and items would be cut without council’s knowledge should department heads have to start cutting back.

“What I’m scared of is we’re not going to see what is being taken out of the budget,” said Pillon.

Sutton said they want costs “as low as possible” but believed the five percent figure “seemed arbitrary.

“Why couldn’t we say three percent? Why couldn’t we say 10 percent? Why couldn’t we say 12 percent?” he asked.

Sutton agreed with Sutherland that the police department, the town’s priciest, couldn’t cut back due to fixed costs. He also agreed that services would have to be reduced under such a motion.

“There’s no doubt in my mind if we stuck to that, we’d have to cut services,” he said.

Pouget countered by stating Texas Road could still be done as the town is seeking grants and that the town was looking for excuses in saying five percent couldn’t be accomplished. If people had to slash household budgets, Pouget said people could do it.

“We are in a special case,” she said. “No other municipality in Essex County has experienced the debt we’ve put on our residents.”

Mayor Wayne Hurst said if debt is to be discussed, so should assets. He noted the town had the last primary treatment sewage plant in Ontario and had to be upgraded while other assets have brought people to town or have resolved outstanding issues, citing the crosswalk in front of General Amherst High School and the “gateways” at both ends of town as an example.

“People don’t mind the price when they see the prize,” Hurst stated.

CAO Mike Phipps said the town’s debt has been issued for this year and now bills are coming in.

“If this motion carries, all bets are off,” he said.

With the bills coming in, he said administration would “do our best from our end” but expressed concern over the motion.

“Frankly, I don’t know how you’re going to do it with a motion like this,” he said.

Phipps added administration doesn’t know 2014 budget numbers yet “but we soon will” and said he has yet to work with an administration that “pads” its budgets.

“We will do our absolute best and will bring you the tightest budget yet,” said Phipps, adding that council will likely cut that even further.

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