LITTLE CURRENT—The Northeast Town council held a special public input session for the 2016 budget earlier this month. This meeting was a first of its kind for the municipality, as usually a public input session is held earlier in the new year after the draft budget is prepared.
“This is a new concept, holding a public budget meeting prior to the budget deliberations,” Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin explained to the small group which had assembled for the meeting. “Staff and council haven’t even started on the budget yet, but we wanted to hold this meeting to hear your thoughts and suggestions for the 2016 budget. We are holding this meeting in the summer to ensure that summer residents have the opportunity to voice their input as well.”
“This is an excellent opportunity for staff and council to hear suggestion prior to getting into the development to the budget,” added CAO Dave Williamson. “Hearing the ideas and suggestions ahead of time will allow us to integrate the ideas into the budget. In the past, public input has always been considered, but as the mayor explained, historically not until after the draft budget was presented.”
There were a few ratepayers present at the meeting including Barbara Baker of the Little Current Library board.
Ms. Baker told council that the library board was doing their best to stay close to a two percent increase in creating its budget but was struggling with the loss of two employees, one off due to illness and another retiring.
“The budget might come closer to three or four percent,” said Ms. Baker. “But we are doing our best to keep it under that.”
Gerry Quinn, president of the McGregor Bay Association, was also in attendance at the meeting and reminded council that the association was not pleased that residents in his ward (Ward 1) continue to pay 28 percent of the common levy, but only have one councillor representing them. “I know you do it by population not assessment, but I’m just pointing this out.”
Mayor MacNevin thanked Mr. Quinn for his input and commented that council does revisit council’s representation periodically (as council did last year).
John Finlay of Honora Bay thanked council for holding the meeting in August so that seasonal residents such as himself could provide input to the budget.
“It appears that not many have chosen to,” added Mr. Finlay, “but thank you for the opportunity.”
The NEMI Taxpayers Association also presented suggestions. “Suggestion one: as a result of the interest we are paying for the empty lots in the Little Current subdivision, is there a merit to further reduce the cost of each lot—with a stipulation that when a lot is purchased a building is to be erected within two years?”
The second suggestion was for municipal contracts reflecting salary increases no more than the current cost of living percentages. As part of that suggestion, the association also suggested that council look into making sure its staff wages are in line with comparable municipalities.
“Our association maintains that the size of council should be reduced, reflecting a fairer representation for a municipality our size,” said the association of its third suggestion. “Suggestion four, we would support the number of municipal staff continue to be evaluated and when appropriate, reduced through attrition.”
The association also stated that it supports, in some cases, contracting work and leasing equipment which, “should be further reviewed rather than hiring employees or purchasing new(er) equipment.”
“As an association, we maintain that council should continue to review the current donations budget, along with the merits of developing a system that recognizes the vast number of social groups in the Northeast Town, but in keeping with our financial priorities and our fiscal situation—municipally, provincially and federally,” continued the suggestions. “And lastly, should venues such as our marinas, library, recreational complex, museum, be revenue neutral? If they do not yield enough money to cover the costs of operation, should they be sold to the private sector?”
“Tonight is a first step and we thank everyone for their input,” said Mayor MacNevin. “What we heard tonight, these ideas will be included in our deliberation. It is also important to note that at any of the council meetings, there is always the opportunity to ask for a deputation (with the town staff ahead of time) and present ideas. We appreciate those who were able to come out tonight.”