GRAVENHURST - Although the process won’t begin in earnest until a new CAO is put in place, council has approved a budget process policy and staff will set about creating a base budget to kick off the 2013 financial deliberations.
The policy does not set out specific target dates or budgetary goals, but will act as a guide, according to town treasurer Ken Watson, to ensure the process is as smooth and efficient as it can be. The targets defined are more general in nature and moving forward into the 2014 budget would see that process begin in the second quarter of 2013, with the goal of having a final document approved for the final quarter of the year.
“This is the first time we’ve had a formalized policy for the operational and capital budget forecasts,” he explained. “It’s really a short and concise business plan for each area (town department).”
He said the first phase of this year’s process will be for staff to create a “base budget,” essentially meaning each department will detail costs the municipality must pay for year over year, such as salaries and benefits, vehicle maintenance, facility heating and operational costs and the like.
Once those costs are compiled, then council and staff can begin to deliberate the more optional costs, such as potential capital projects like road and bridge work or capital purchases like new computers.
Watson said this year, each department is being encouraged to incorporate about two per cent of their individual budgets toward staff training. Come deliberations that may be altered up or down, depending on overall financial needs.
Members of council altered one recommended policy point by staff that would have put certain powers of approval in the CAO’s hands that council would rather stay with them.
The presented policy stated that the CAO “approves all capital expenditure requests before presentation to council” and “approves all new program requests before presentation to council.”
Coun. Sandy Cairns raised the issue, saying there could end up being project or budget proposals council might consider, but would not necessarily get the chance to with the particular wording of the policy.
“It (the policy) says to me that before it comes to us it could just be quashed from the table and never come to us,” she said.
Treasurer Watson explained the intent was more to help council prioritize and would not negate council seeing any proposal, but council did alter the wording.
“The word ‘approves’ is a control word,” Coun. Lola Bratty added, recommending the word be changed to “reviews,” to council’s agreement. “I don’t see the CAO as having the control; I think council has the control.”
“It’s also a concept issue; control should stay with us, not in that office (the CAO’s),” she added.
Mayor Paisley Donaldson said due to the departure of the previous CAO the process won’t begin as early as council had hoped at the end of the 2012 budget passing, which did not occur until late March.
“With the CAO gone the process will start a little slower, but we are still committed to meeting those deadlines of (passing a 2013 budget) the last part of December or the first part of January,” she said. “Once we get a CAO in place, their first and primary responsibility will be the budget.”