Priorities first: Iqaluit council lines up first steps for 2015 budget
“We have a long list of things that are not working”
Iqaluit city councillors and its administration showed their unquestioned commitment Aug. 18 to avoid a repeat of their record-long 2014 budget deliberations.
Although he wasn’t even on council at the time, Coun. Stephen Mansell made it clear he and the director of corporate services, John Mabberi-Mudonyi, didn’t want to see deliberations stretch out as they did in the winter, to almost 40 hours of meetings and three drafts.
“John and I have had a number of discussions about how to avoid the issues that were seen last time,” Mansell told fellow councillors at the Aug. 18 meeting of the city’s finance committee of the whole.
As chair of that committee, he will head up discussions on the 2015 budget.
Councillors were quick to point out what they thought went wrong. Mabberi-Mudonyi summed it up with his take on how council would avoid line-by-line haggling over the thick document among themselves and with city directors.
“At the end of the day, we have to set goals and objectives — that’s why you are here,” he said.
“What you want next year, and what you want five years from now. Then when we’re done all of that, we say OK, where’s the money. Last time, it was where’s the money – but for what? We were all over the place,” he said.
Councillors agreed the finance committee should not have to pour over all figures in the document line by line, department by department.
Trouble is, according to Coun. Kenny Bell, “we need to have our directors tell us the truth,” he said.
“We have a long list of things that are not working. We have failed infrastructure that’s maybe up to $30 million worth. We have a dump that is an obvious, massive failure. We have a sewage lagoon, a sewage treatment plant, that’s not treating anything, and the list goes on,” Bell said.
“This council a couple of years ago came out with the pool as a number-one priority,” he said, referring to council’s support for a proposal to borrow up to $40 million to pay for the city’s aquatic centre, now under construction with a $34 million price tag.
“With the smart people that were in that room, I can’t imagine they had all of the information at hand to make that decision,” he said.
“This time we need people to tell us the absolute truth.”
Coun. Terry Dobbin pointed to the first failure council ran into in budget discussions – when council discovered the administration pegged property tax increases at $3 on every $1,000 evaluation.
“The bottom line is, why let the mill rate go through the roof?” he asked.
“If you know what it is you want to accomplish, then you will determine whether it’s one per cent, or even zero,” Mabberi-Mudonyi said of tax increases.
“But that’s not likely. Everything may change. You’ve got to spend a lot of money on that dump fire,” he said — pointing to the city’s biggest unexpected cost of the year.
The city has so far spent $500,000 on plans to extinguish the three-month old fire in a large pile at the city dump. The city’s fire department anticipates it will cost at least $3.3 million to put it out.
“At the end of the day, your goals and objectives will direct you on how much you have to raise your taxes and get your water rates. And at this time, the dump fire is going to play a big part in it,” Mabberi-Mudonyi said.
On that note, Coun. Simon Nattaq said council could use more common sense.
“We keep asking for more funding,” he said, pointing to money directed to dousing the dump, much of which went to hiring an expert for information on how to put out the fire.
“I think we have to be really careful next time with what we call ‘technical experts.’”
Coun. Akumalik said council can’t let the city’s departments have everything they want.
“All the departments are asking we want this, they need that, and most of the time we’re just saying okay, you can have it,” he said. “But I really agree, we need to start setting our priorities this time around.”
Council agreed they must meet with directors of all departments to set city priorities. Mabberi-Mudonyi suggested the city complete the budget before the end of the year.
The city’s finance committee meeting closed with a promise to hold a “goals and objectives workshop” to set priorities. After a short break, councillors returned for a brief special meeting, where they passed a final reading of a motion on the city’s top priority of the summer: extinguishing the dump fire.
Council unanimously passed a bylaw allowing the city “to do all things necessary” to extinguish the fire. The bylaw allows city officials special authority to finance and contract all means needed to carry out the city’s dump-dousing plan.