Salmon Arm City Hall and Law Courts. (File photo)

Column: Balancing needs and wants in Salmon Arm’s $32 million budget

Council Report by Mayor Alan Harrison

By Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison

How does council build a $32 million budget for our city?

If I had to answer this in one word, I would say, “Thoroughly.”

Working through the budget is perhaps the most important task elected officials have. What is decided at budget determines the work that is done in the city for the next 12 months.

This year, the process started in September. Each city department prioritized their needs and worked with the chief financial officer to put together a draft budget.

Public input was collected at an open meeting and through written submissions (24 received this year).

A draft budget, forecasting a 3.07 per cent tax increase was brought to council in January. This document was more than 300 pages long!

Councillors then study the budget. I have found both experience and time are needed to fully understand the complexities of the document.

I estimate 40 concentrated hours, and at least three budget cycles are necessary for elected officials to get a firm grasp of city budgeting.

Asking lots of questions helps – staff is extremely helpful in answering these.

Our city has been fortunate to have had three intelligent, calm and conscientious financial officers over the past 35 years.

Bonnie Threlkeld, Monica Dalziel and, presently, Chelsea Van de Cappelle, have ensured the city’s financial position has remained solid.

Read more: Covid funding helps Salmon Arm city council reduce tax increase for 2021

Read more: Improvements to Salmon Arm’s Foreshore Trail to be part of budget deliberations

Over the past decade, the City of Salmon Arm’s average tax increase has been 1.5 per cent per year.

Unlike other levels of government, municipal governments must balance their budget each year. I personally think this is a good thing. It forces councils to balance needs and wants with the ability to pay.

City council worked with this year’s draft budget over three days. All these meetings were open to the public. It was great to have members of the public following along virtually this year.

Council finalized the budget with a minimal, 0.5 per cent tax increase. The B.C. government granted cities a one-time COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant to assist municipal governments in balancing reduced revenues and increased operational costs due to the pandemic. Our city received $3.5 million.

We used this to assist with 2020, 2021 and – planning ahead – 2022 pandemic effects. This grant was a huge help!

Budgeting for households, businesses or cities are similar.

Thorough prioritization of what we need and want, with what we can afford.

We have done our best to do this.

@SalmonArm
lachlan@saobserver.net

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