Last year for the 2015 budget, the Town of Creston budgeted to spend more than $1.4 million of our savings from our General operating budget (everything other than water and sewage). At the time I was not a strong supporter of this ideology. I made sure staff and council knew that I wasn’t comfortable spending that much from our savings without better controls, even though all were good things to spend money on. I supported the budget with the clear understanding that we would work on the budgeting process for the 2016 year.
For this 2016 year, we had staff do many different things with an eye towards making the budget process easier to follow and understand as well as making councils input more easily identifiable. It has been a labour of love, bringing forth good fruits, and exposing flaws with unforeseen restrictions. These restrictions brought us to the date of February 23, when it was our first look at the budget as a whole (we were previously not allowed to make any budget decisions until this date). Our general operating budget was going to spend $800,000 of our savings and council didn’t want to actually go through the budget and make recommendations, which was more of an indictment of the budget process than anything else. Our director of finance, Steffan Klassen, almost had a heart attack when this happened. I may have actually had one!. We were able to postpone until the next week where we went through and pulled out/deferred expenditures of a whopping $35,000. That is sarcasm, by the way. I had made note of many items that we could have deferred, but was ultimately overruled. It was even mentioned that I was too late to pull some of these items out of the budget, which was completely inaccurate, as that was the date set aside to make decisions, but I digress. Once again, an issue with the budget process. With this defeat, I proposed an idea that in the future we could come up with a soft cap for our savings account, where we would ensure that we always had a certain amount of money put aside with control procedures as to what we can spend our savings on.
It is something that we will be looking at adding into our 2017 budget, along with many other adjustments for a better overall process.
Subsequent to these meetings as a council we have increased our budget to spend close to $1 million of our savings this year. While there is a very fine line to walk between having a big picture view towards the future and doing so little that the town is set back, maybe it is not a good idea to spend so much of our savings at once.
I will not be supporting the budget when it comes up at our April 12 meeting. When the budget has been passed by the other councillors, it will not be the end of the world, the town of Creston is still in good shape and we still have some savings. One really good thing that comes from spending our town savings account is that many projects get completed in a quick manner, that is at least until the savings account is depleted fully, at which time nothing happens, or there are steep tax increases. Overall we have amazing staff, a fantastic mayor and a very effective council who will work together in the future and continually get better and better.
Life will go on, and isn’t life absolutely wonderful? (Yes, yes it is).
Kevin Boehmer is a first-term councillor for the Town of Creston.