A spectator at Tuesday's council meeting demonstrates against council's decision to not allow any public speakers at a meeting specially scheduled to give three readings to this year's budget.

Budget planning process ‘manipulative’ says mayor

Budget bylaw receives three readings from council Tuesday night

  • Apr. 25, 2012 6:00 p.m.

A 13.6 per cent tax hike received first, second, and third reading by council Tuesday night, despite the mayor’s claim that the budget planning process has been “manipulative” and “misguided.”

A group of about 35 residents attending the council meeting stormed out of council chambers after three readings of the budget bylaw passed.

Some couldn’t resist voicing their disdain.

“This council is a crock!” shouted Judy Campbell from the gallery.

Another message to council: “Shame on you.”

“We’ll remember when the next election comes around,” a woman said as she got up to leave.

Some Campbell River taxpayers have protested the tax hike since March 27 when council proposed the increase at a finance committee meeting.

It inched one step closer to law this week.

All three readings passed by a 4-3 vote, with councillors Ryan Mennie, Claire Moglove, Larry Samson and Mary Storry in favour. Mayor Walter Jakeway and councillors Andy Adams and Ron Kerr were opposed.

Jakeway, who weeks ago encouraged taxpayers to scream and yell and not accept the tax increase, said he was not surprised with how the vote unfolded.

“It was inevitable,” Jakeway said after the meeting.

Before the budget was put to a vote, Jakeway voiced his frustration with the budget process, charging it was fraught with problems.

“The 2012 budgeting and financial planning process has been run in a manipulative manner,” he said. “There has been a misguided agenda underway. The result may set Campbell River’s recovery back at least a year, probably much longer.”

Jakeway said the tax increase will pull millions of dollars out of the local economy and deny council the choice to put scarce resources where they’re most needed. He said, during the budget process, city staff held all the strings, and didn’t provide as much information as was needed.

“The last few months has felt like a game of controlled mini-golf with the staff supplying a moderate amount of financial data at the first meeting and significantly less and less information at each successive meeting,” Jakeway said. “There has been incomplete feedback of updated information, until the fifth meeting when the only options remaining were to reject or to putt the ball up the carpeted strip and into the predetermined cup.”

Jakeway said the budget is “a disservice to Campbell River taxpayers” and guaranteed that history would prove his statement to be correct.

“To the public, everything I have said previously, during and following financial committee meetings still applies,” Jakeway said. “When you get your tax notices in late May or early June…remember, just remember. Please hold council and senior staff accountable.”

Coun. Andy Adams, who voted against the budget, said the past few months have been the most challenging and distressing of his term on council.

Adams spoke at length about the problems with this year’s budget.

He said there were three pots council could dip into to reduce the impact of the loss of revenue from Catalyst this year – taxation, service cuts and drawing on reserves. Adams has consistently advocated for a balance between all three, but last year that fell on deaf ears and council used $1.1 million from reserves to balance the budget. That money then had to be replaced this year, and contributed to the $3.6 million deficit for 2012.

Adams said this year the same mistakes are being made again.

“What is proposed is a significant increase of 13.6 per cent, an unprecedented draw on reserves and one-time money in excess of $1.6 million and only $175,000 in permanent staffing reductions. There have been other minor reductions such as curb side yard waste collection reverting back to previous service levels, and a minor reduction in parks maintenance and flower beds but this is not a balance between the three pots,” Adams said. “No one likes to cut services or adversely impact on people’s jobs but we’re entrusted to look at all avenues, and leave no stone unturned. Unfortunately, I do not believe we’ve done that.”

Adams also set the record straight on what taxpayers are facing.

“13.6 per cent is 13.6 per cent, not 7.1 (like city staff have said, after reduced user fees are factored in),” he said. “And it’s not just for this year, but in perpetuity. It does not go away. If you’re trying to sell it as a bottom line to the taxpayer you should include the regional increase and the regional solid waste increase that members of this council also voted in favour of.”

Coun. Ron Kerr was also critical of the budget and said more weight should have been given to the taxpayers.

“We had an opportunity to change the operational culture of Campbell River with this budget – we failed,” he said. “One has to be living in denial to ignore the empty commercial buildings, the protesters’ desperation, and the pages of petitions that we see.”

But it wasn’t all gloom and doom. Jakeway said good things came out of the budget process because council was challenged.

“The apathy, 30 per cent turnout, of the last election has gone; the taxpayers have had a loud and clear voice; and the need to continue the all-out efforts to reduce costs and challenge the status quo (emerged),” he said.

Coun. Mary Storry also acknowledged the vast amount of participation from the public this year.

“To the public – all the input, both supportive and critical of my position – I want you to know I have heard you and I will consider your concerns as we consider looking for efficiencies throughout this term,” Storry said.

Adams also found a bright spot, praising previous councils for shifting the city’s reliance away from the heavy industrial tax base.

“Can you imagine if previous councils had taken the same approach as North Cowichan or Port Alberni and done nothing,” Adams said. “We would have been facing a $5.8 million problem today instead of a $1.8 million problem. The good news is we are no longer dependent on a single, major industry.”