The buck stops here

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

If ignorance is bliss, then stay away from Hamilton city hall. Just like you'd never eat your favourite Italian sausage again if you ever saw how it was made, you'd get the same stomach-turning reactions if you spent a day watching politicians make a mess out of balancing the city's budget.

Traditionally, politicians listen for hours on end as city department heads explain how they managed their budgets. Then the question erupts about how Hamilton will balance its $45-million-$55-million deficit without help from the provincial government. Then a series of public meetings are held to gauge what the public wants - namely, lower taxes and maintenance of services.

Budget deliberations begin in the new year, with councillors immediately asking senior staff to provide a list of potential program and service cuts. Usually, politicians accept the reductions, because they are an accounting sleight-of-hand or unheard-of services that the public doesn't know or care about. For the most part, these all-day budget deliberations grind on, and usually are consumed by one or two issues that have a more symbolic than practical effect on the city's $1 billion budget.

The truly frustrating aspect of Hamilton's budget deliberations is the opportunities that are missed. The real issues are either avoided, quietly delayed, or in this year's case, finalized behind closed doors. There was even a kerfuffle over whether or not "cluster meetings" the mayor was having with individual councillors and city staff were attempts to avoid politicians making tough decisions on controversial issues. When Mayor Larry Di Ianni got wind of the "flurry" of concern, he quickly stated the meetings were much ado about nothing.

Maybe. Maybe not. But it shows the meat of the discussions occur out of public view. Every year, as rural Flamborough councillor Dave Braden continually reiterates, councillors are creating fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants policies, making financial band-aid decisions, and caving into whatever pressure is applied to them. The bottom line is, can Hamilton residents endure an average three per cent tax increase every year? The answer is a resounding no.

Hamilton councillor Chad Collins, a fierce budget cutter who has unearthed overspending in the bowels of city departments, says he has been pleased at the way the budget discussions have gone. He promises that actual cuts have been made, and will continue to be done. But he concedes the budget discussions remain mired in a rut.

Every year, politicians talk about cuts and program reductions. What should be discussed is how to avoid those cuts and promote boosting city revenues. There are only three ways to do that: raise taxes, increase user fees, and add assessment.

Over the years there has only been lip service directed at promoting economic development. The Maple Leaf Foods fiasco has proved that council should re-orient its priorities on growing the city's assessment base, and to do that the city needs to revamp the economic development department. Throwing money at the Art Gallery of Hamilton may help get people elected, but announcing a new manufacturing business will prevent cuts to public health programs, keep bus rates at an affordable level and maybe add that additional bylaw officer to enforce an anti-idling bylaw.

"The buck stops at this council," said Collins. "If we don't have the courage to make a decision, we shouldn't be here."

Kevin Werner is regional reporter for Brabant Newspapers. He can be reached by calling 905-308-7757, ext. 36, or by email at kwerner@brabantnewspapers.com

The buck stops here

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

If ignorance is bliss, then stay away from Hamilton city hall. Just like you'd never eat your favourite Italian sausage again if you ever saw how it was made, you'd get the same stomach-turning reactions if you spent a day watching politicians make a mess out of balancing the city's budget.

Traditionally, politicians listen for hours on end as city department heads explain how they managed their budgets. Then the question erupts about how Hamilton will balance its $45-million-$55-million deficit without help from the provincial government. Then a series of public meetings are held to gauge what the public wants - namely, lower taxes and maintenance of services.

Budget deliberations begin in the new year, with councillors immediately asking senior staff to provide a list of potential program and service cuts. Usually, politicians accept the reductions, because they are an accounting sleight-of-hand or unheard-of services that the public doesn't know or care about. For the most part, these all-day budget deliberations grind on, and usually are consumed by one or two issues that have a more symbolic than practical effect on the city's $1 billion budget.

The truly frustrating aspect of Hamilton's budget deliberations is the opportunities that are missed. The real issues are either avoided, quietly delayed, or in this year's case, finalized behind closed doors. There was even a kerfuffle over whether or not "cluster meetings" the mayor was having with individual councillors and city staff were attempts to avoid politicians making tough decisions on controversial issues. When Mayor Larry Di Ianni got wind of the "flurry" of concern, he quickly stated the meetings were much ado about nothing.

Maybe. Maybe not. But it shows the meat of the discussions occur out of public view. Every year, as rural Flamborough councillor Dave Braden continually reiterates, councillors are creating fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants policies, making financial band-aid decisions, and caving into whatever pressure is applied to them. The bottom line is, can Hamilton residents endure an average three per cent tax increase every year? The answer is a resounding no.

Hamilton councillor Chad Collins, a fierce budget cutter who has unearthed overspending in the bowels of city departments, says he has been pleased at the way the budget discussions have gone. He promises that actual cuts have been made, and will continue to be done. But he concedes the budget discussions remain mired in a rut.

Every year, politicians talk about cuts and program reductions. What should be discussed is how to avoid those cuts and promote boosting city revenues. There are only three ways to do that: raise taxes, increase user fees, and add assessment.

Over the years there has only been lip service directed at promoting economic development. The Maple Leaf Foods fiasco has proved that council should re-orient its priorities on growing the city's assessment base, and to do that the city needs to revamp the economic development department. Throwing money at the Art Gallery of Hamilton may help get people elected, but announcing a new manufacturing business will prevent cuts to public health programs, keep bus rates at an affordable level and maybe add that additional bylaw officer to enforce an anti-idling bylaw.

"The buck stops at this council," said Collins. "If we don't have the courage to make a decision, we shouldn't be here."

Kevin Werner is regional reporter for Brabant Newspapers. He can be reached by calling 905-308-7757, ext. 36, or by email at kwerner@brabantnewspapers.com

The buck stops here

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

If ignorance is bliss, then stay away from Hamilton city hall. Just like you'd never eat your favourite Italian sausage again if you ever saw how it was made, you'd get the same stomach-turning reactions if you spent a day watching politicians make a mess out of balancing the city's budget.

Traditionally, politicians listen for hours on end as city department heads explain how they managed their budgets. Then the question erupts about how Hamilton will balance its $45-million-$55-million deficit without help from the provincial government. Then a series of public meetings are held to gauge what the public wants - namely, lower taxes and maintenance of services.

Budget deliberations begin in the new year, with councillors immediately asking senior staff to provide a list of potential program and service cuts. Usually, politicians accept the reductions, because they are an accounting sleight-of-hand or unheard-of services that the public doesn't know or care about. For the most part, these all-day budget deliberations grind on, and usually are consumed by one or two issues that have a more symbolic than practical effect on the city's $1 billion budget.

The truly frustrating aspect of Hamilton's budget deliberations is the opportunities that are missed. The real issues are either avoided, quietly delayed, or in this year's case, finalized behind closed doors. There was even a kerfuffle over whether or not "cluster meetings" the mayor was having with individual councillors and city staff were attempts to avoid politicians making tough decisions on controversial issues. When Mayor Larry Di Ianni got wind of the "flurry" of concern, he quickly stated the meetings were much ado about nothing.

Maybe. Maybe not. But it shows the meat of the discussions occur out of public view. Every year, as rural Flamborough councillor Dave Braden continually reiterates, councillors are creating fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants policies, making financial band-aid decisions, and caving into whatever pressure is applied to them. The bottom line is, can Hamilton residents endure an average three per cent tax increase every year? The answer is a resounding no.

Hamilton councillor Chad Collins, a fierce budget cutter who has unearthed overspending in the bowels of city departments, says he has been pleased at the way the budget discussions have gone. He promises that actual cuts have been made, and will continue to be done. But he concedes the budget discussions remain mired in a rut.

Every year, politicians talk about cuts and program reductions. What should be discussed is how to avoid those cuts and promote boosting city revenues. There are only three ways to do that: raise taxes, increase user fees, and add assessment.

Over the years there has only been lip service directed at promoting economic development. The Maple Leaf Foods fiasco has proved that council should re-orient its priorities on growing the city's assessment base, and to do that the city needs to revamp the economic development department. Throwing money at the Art Gallery of Hamilton may help get people elected, but announcing a new manufacturing business will prevent cuts to public health programs, keep bus rates at an affordable level and maybe add that additional bylaw officer to enforce an anti-idling bylaw.

"The buck stops at this council," said Collins. "If we don't have the courage to make a decision, we shouldn't be here."

Kevin Werner is regional reporter for Brabant Newspapers. He can be reached by calling 905-308-7757, ext. 36, or by email at kwerner@brabantnewspapers.com