The City’s budget for 2018 was $3.4 billion, almost half of which is funded by property taxes and a quarter by fees and service charges. Federal, provincial and other grants comprise most of the remaining revenues. There is significant pressure on the annual budget. Residents rightly demand value for money and are concerned about the impact of the City’s spending on their household’s budget. At the same time, a lack of investment in community assets and services has both short- and long-term impacts on the City which can be difficult to measure financially, but come with costs nonetheless. Additionally, we face the same challenges (growth, changing demographics and climate change) and opportunities (new technologies, data, innovation) as cities worldwide. A pragmatic approach to money management is needed to be able to achieve Council goals and objectives.
Budgeting is one of the most important ways for the decisions made by the elected council to be turned into concrete results for residents. The budget process must provide council with clarity on the trade-offs they are making as well as tangible plans to get things done.
I have financed small and medium-sized businesses to support growth and innovation, managed a portfolio of $100 million of personal investments and run a multi-million dollar and multi-stakeholder project to introduce a new, real-time payment clearing and settlement system for Canada. I will apply this expertise in money management, project implementation and relentlessly driving to achieve outcomes to wisely manage our investments for the future:
Pragmatic money management:
- Impose a discipline on Council decision-making such that where there is an expectation City administration will take action to achieve the goals reflected in the proposed initiative (e.g. the Urban Forest Management Plan), it should come to Council with an implementation plan, source of funding as well as milestones and metrics for ongoing monitoring of success. It makes no sense to approve strategies and initiatives without knowing how much they will cost or if/how the City can pay for them. Providing funding for approved initiatives along with ongoing reporting will ensure that Council decisions are respected.
- Advocate that recommendations made to council include analysis of the issue and options for recommendations, as well as a full range of decision-making and assessment tools such as full life-cycle costing over the short and long-term, cost-benefit analysis, impact analysis, benchmarking and best practices from Canadian and international cities.
- Establish a “bring-forward” process to follow-up on City administration when committing to future reporting as part of recommendations to Council (e.g. anticipated report on public engagement, by-laws). This includes approved initiatives reporting against milestones and metrics.
A better budget process:
- Work with City staff to increase transparency of the budget-setting process, participation of all councillors earlier in the process and greater public engagement. Commit to holding broad, community-based budget consultations annually.
- Examine the allocation of budgets and identify options for flexibility to allow for re-allocation due to changing priorities or needs throughout the year.
- Evaluate impact and efficacy of Councillor-controlled funds (e.g. cash-in-lieu of parkland, temporary traffic calming measures)
A better budget:
- Critically evaluate spending in both capital and operating budgets, especially in areas of largest expenditure (e.g. LRT), with a focus on assessing the impact and efficacy on stated objectives.
- Advocate for annual selective program reviews to ensure value for money across all departments.
- Limit increases in the areas of service fees such that they least impact those least able to pay.
- A limit on tax increases imposes a useful discipline in the budgeting process, but also limits investments in the city. We need to evaluate the budget from an investment perspective, to understand the inherent trade-offs between taxes and investments, including the costs of not making investments (e.g. affordable housing, environmental programs). Doing so will ensure wise decision-making that balances the costs of today against the benefits for tomorrow.