There is no question that in spite of the best efforts of the current council
Owen Sound’s growth and prosperity has been relatively negligible for many
years. Given that both Meaford and Georgian Buffs have growing populations, if
we continue on this path there will be a time in the distant future that Owen
Sound becomes a suburb of one of our neighbouring municipalities.
1. Develop a five (5)
year financial plan with the goal of reducing taxes by 2% per year until Owen
Sound's taxes and expenses are relatively equal to similarly sized
municipalities. This should include a Change Management Plan and a Communication
Plan to ensure city staff remains engaged and focused on restraint.
2. Budget Vetting: Modify the job
descriptions for the city manager and all senior staff to explicitly include the
scrutiny and approval of all budgets submitted by their direct reports with a
view to ensuring that the need for any requested increase is well documented and
does not exceed the rate of annual inflation.
3. Change the Budget
Process: Roll out a
Zero-Based Budgeting process. Instead of new budgets developed using the past
year's budget as baseline. Each new budget is built based on the assigned
activities for the year. Each and every expense must be fully justified. You can
review this process here:
Based Budgeting (ZBB)
Burdened Cost Centers: Council must introduce Fully Burdened Cost Centers. Council and taxpayers deserve to see all costs associated
with each department which includes an allocation of all support services such
as IT, HR, Finance, Building Maintenance and most importantly the amortization expense for all
capital expenditures for each department or cost center.
5. Restrict Budget
Transfers: Enforce the concept
of Restricted Funds and provide clear rules to eliminate the ability for budget
managers to use funds on activities other than the reasons the funds were
appropriated. For example, if Transit appropriates funds to cover the bus
contract costs, as it did this year, the budget manager cannot use these funds
for anything other than the bus contract.
6. Budget Committee: Action
Scott Greig’s idea for establishing a Budget Committee with the authority to
send back draft budgets for reevaluation. Council needs to tap into the
community and encourage seasoned business professionals to volunteer for this
committee. Ideally membership should consist of two councilors and three Owen
Sound residents with knowledge and experience in business and financial
7. Learning from the
Mistakes of Past Councils. Council needs to conduct financial audits of Transportation
Services and the Tom Thompson Art Gallery with a view to identify the sources of
a 79.9% increase in the transportation budget over 9 years and a 77.3% increase
in the Art Gallery budget over four years. Learning why these extreme
increases happened and what the council of the day could have done to prevent
them will assist the new council to identify the early signs of similar problems.
Study the mistakes of the past so not to repeat them in the future.
Accountability: The new council must hold the City
Manager Accountable. It is his responsibility to manage city expenditures in a
cost-effective and financially responsible manner. It is also his job to ensure
that draft budgets are adequately challenged and revised on their way to the
council table. He must personally complete a detailed review of each draft
budget when they make their way to his desk to ensure that each requested
increase is fully supported with documentation and does not exceed the rate of
inflation. This Budget Year we saw the City Manager request a 71.9% increase to
his budget at a time when city growth has been virtually stagnant for many
years. He should be setting an example of “restraint” not
9. Transparency is Essential for Recovery: The
new council must improve transparency at city hall by including an FTE
spreadsheet, and a spreadsheet of current contracts, broken down by department with the annual financial statements. The
FTE Spreadsheet should include the previous year’s data so residents can see the
changes in the workforce year to year. In addition Council must direct the
city’s auditing firm to include statements of operations for each department, in
its annual report and include descriptions of all expenses listed under titles
of "Contracting" and "Legal and Contracting".
10. Listen to the People:
Residents have been very vocal in identifying two major concerns, high taxes and
those among us without housing. Therefore council must earmark annual savings
for tax reductions and increased support for Owen Sound's homeless.