A good budget preparation process must include an annual review of all services and should normally produce a balanced budget. Council could strike a Service Review Committee with a mandate to annually review each and every service in regard to need and efficiency. The Committee should be driven by Staff, chaired by a member of Council and most importantly have membership that includes at least two members of the general public and one other member of Council. The Service Review process should examine each service under the following criteria.
1. Is the service essential?
2. Is the real cost-per-user accurately calculated from empirical data and is it reasonable, and
3. Are the majority of rate-payers likely to support its continued funding?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘NO’, then the service should be considered for further review, elimination or significant downsizing. All services that survive the initial review should then be assessed for ‘size’ appropriateness. Are we paying for a brand new Cadillac Escalade when we can only afford a 1998 Chevy impala? If, and only if, a budget increase is fully justified should the budget be tabled with an increase. However, in this case, the increase should always limited to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
If a municipal council is prone to make decisions based on emotion and is not guided by policy, a council of the day can make decisions that are not based on sound fiscal management and in the process tie the hands of future councils. Fortunately, our Council does have policy and precedent to guide them in the decision making process. However Council should review its policies to ensure sufficient guidelines are in place to address new challenges. Council should ensure that policies are in place to dispassionately address new emotional pleas for financial support for social causes or perceived community need before committing our tax dollars in an emotional response.