Early start to budget acrimony

Budget planning meetings for this year started in late January and the year before, financial planning took place over one week in March.

Council will start next year’s budget planning early but it’s not early enough, according to a consultant who recently had Campbell River city hall under the microscope.

Council endorsed a city staff recommendation at the Nov. 6 council meeting to start financial planning meetings for the 2013 city budget in December.

The base budget, a replica of services the city provided in 2012, is expected to be debated Dec. 3 and 4.

By comparison, budget planning meetings for this year started in late January and the year before, financial planning took place over one week in March.

But George Cuff, the author of a governance audit conducted at city hall in early September, said December is still not early enough to start budget planning.

“I would say on a normal basis the budget for the following year should be adopted by the end of November at the latest and that the budget not be allowed to move into the next year before it’s adopted,” said Cuff, who spoke to council Nov. 6 to present his findings.

“So the budget for 2013 should be right now in the process of revisions and adoption.”

But it’s not.

Cuff recommended senior management at city hall prepare the budget immediately but that recommendation was not released to staff and council until the middle of September.

Though the budget is nowhere near ready for adoption as Cuff suggests, Coun. Andy Adams,

who has the finance portfolio, said having budget discussions moved up even two months early will be beneficial.

“By doing the base budget before the end of the calendar year it provides staff with the green light to move forward,” Adams said. “In the past, councils have been finalizing the budgets in March. Staff having to move forward with fiscal operations when we’re halfway through the year is not a prudent thing to do.

“You’re already a quarter of the way through the year before you know what you have to work with. It just doesn’t work well.”

Council is also proposing to start it’s capital budget in early January which will allow the city to prepare Request for Proposals for city projects contracted out before construction season begins.

Adams said it will help the city avoid higher price tags because its “late coming out of the gate and companies have already committed themselves to other projects.”

The final part of the budget – service enhancements and new or expanded projects – is scheduled for debate the week of Feb. 24.

“That will put council in a good position to see what property tax levels will be and see what services we can do,” Adams said.