Local government budgets are not simply about roads, garbage, sewer, and water anymore. They are also about preserving the environment, fostering strategic economic and social development, reducing carbon emissions, diverting and minimizing waste, building dikes to meet provincial sea level rise standards and climate-related storm surges, improving railway crossings as per federal safety mandates, providing and governing affordable housing that used to be the purview of the province, competing for expertise in a shrinking workforce, and keeping up with technology and environmental standards. And these initiatives generally form the basis for this year’s District budget.
Municipal budgets are hard and complicated, and they are particularly challenging for a new council made up of predominantly newly electeds going through their first round of budget give-and-take.
So I’m not surprised the 2019 budget is a stay-the-course, find-your-footing budget; properly cautious and founded on purposeful master planning and responsible financial management. It builds on past councils’ strategic master planning and diligent work from staff in areas such as active transportation, climate change mitigation, and adaptation, flood protection, technological advancement, communications, engagement, facilities, and infrastructure improvements and masterplans but also shows glimpses of this council’s own unique focus to come.
But while the hair-straight-back past four years was dominated by provincial Environmental Assessments (WLNG, Fortis, and Garibaldi at Squamish), long overdue policy development and master planning, significant public engagement, communications, financial and technological maturation, and unprecedented development activity, that work is significantly done now. The next four years will be largely about how that strategic foundation is leveraged and major facilities and infrastructure upgrades and additions are prioritized and actioned.
Strategic master planning is a double-edged sword. It’s foundational and necessary for transparent and intuitive budgeting, it helps staff build integrated work plans and is critical in successful provincial and federal granting applications. But it can also be a distraction from actually getting stuff done.
It is understandable that council is finding its footing in their first year.
However, if council wants to accomplish any of the large facilities projects in their term — Brennan Park, arts centre, new fire hall, municipal hall and more — they need to more aggressively and strategically go after grants, set more ambitious timelines, get creative with partnerships and rely on the extensive planning that has already been done.
Comprehensive planning is an essential asset in an organization and the bread and butter of staff, but at some point, you have to act, and that is up to council.