Letter to the editor submitted to both Cochrane Eagle and Cochrane Times on 2020-11-01
I would recommend anyone read at least the budget overview to become informed about how council is spending your tax dollars, trust me, it is enlightening to know some details.
Here’s some initial thoughts about the draft information presented to council on October 26, 2020:
-Council began to do multi yr budgets a number of yrs past so this budget contains relevant 2020 information.
-The majority of infrastructure projects are being paid through a process of Off Site Levi’s (OSL’s). OSL’s is a charge imposed by a municipality and collected from a developer as a condition of development or subdivision. In a very literal sense the town is collecting money from a developer in advance of the completion of the subdivision. There is substantial evidence that proves that municipal costs of maintaining/replacing infrastructure actually costs more money than they receive in OSL’s.
-The overall taxation in 2021 includes growth projections. Without growth and possible increased income the estimations are baseless. Projection figures are also problematic, for example, past growth rate estimations were 6% but are lower now.
-There is a vehicle replacement cost of 95,000 for an all-wheel drive sudan; seems excessive.
-I struggle with the taxation rate being published while subtracting growth projections; the actual projections are actually 6.29% not 4.29% in 2022 and actually 8.71% not 5.71% in 2023. I’m also concerned with decreasing savings with a substantial tax increase that will occur after the 2021 election.
-There is a sky rocketing rise in maximum percentage of Cochrane Debt limit which is the total amount Cochrane can ‘borrow’ representing 1.5 times that municipalities revenue. In 2021 the Debt rate was 22.05% but will rise to 61.25% in 2022! I’m concerned about the viability of how we will gain control over this debt and its corresponding debt servicing costs. This rising debt could impact future council’s.
-There is a steady decrease in the operating budget for Development and community services at the same time that there is a steady increase in the operating budget for Council. Council operating budget jumped from $545,397 in 2020 to $614,113 in 2021. That’s (an increase of over $68,716 in one yr; approx. $30,000 increase in salaries and $40,000 increase in materials, goods and supplies.
– There are no salaries listed for Executive Administration. There should never be undisclosed salaries; the formation of a sunshine list is an obvious solution. Administration is already on record for its support of a Calgary wage comparison. This isn’t personal but I struggle to justify comparing the salaries of a City like with a population of over 1 million to a town of less than 30,000?
-There continues to be an excessive amount of contracted services, such as spending $100,000 to come up with a master recreation plan. There is already of significant amount of previously paid for but unused information from consultants on a large range of topics, including this one, and I still wonder why existing town talent could not complete the same work.
I’m giving this budget a C+. The budget gives good information, gives me a sense of what’s going on and doesn’t contain the most obviously questionable items as in past budgets BUT doesn’t give me some key detail I would expect in a report like this, especially for large ticket items, the report still includes some comparators that I find artificially inflate/deflate information and I’m not left with even a general sense of how the Covid Pandemic has/will impact future budgets.