Surprise! There is far more elasticity in the city budget than citizens have been led to believe.
You might remember that, earlier this year, business and other lobbyists wanted the number-crunching process delayed to find savings that might blunt the four per cent tax increase Mayor Bev Buckway and council imposed this year.
Given a little time, there may be a way to save $800,000, said Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce president Rick Karp.
No way, said city officials.
Forgettaboutit – that’s just crazy talk, they said, rolling their eyes.
That’s cuckoo – there is absolutely no way … NO WAY, to carve $800,000 from the budget. There simply wasn’t enough time.
Councillor Florence Roberts took it a step further, calling Karp’s proposal to put the $63.4 million budget on ice for awhile to look for savings offensive. Karp just wanted another meeting, she said.
Well, here we are just five months later and the city is absorbing … ** gasp ** an $800,000 goofup without breaking a sweat.
It’s pulling from reserves, delaying playground construction and some landscaping and street renovations and … voila, it’s got $1.1 million – $300,000 more than it needs.
It will pump that surplus cash into the Canada Games Centre repair project to cover stuff the insurance won’t cover.
The sudden budget shortfall cropped up after the city fought a pay equity battle in court.
Officials had set aside $1 million for the project. But, when the dust settled, the city had lowballed its estimated cost by a whopping $800,000.
The money it just ponied up covered that gross underestimation.
Explaining this, Robert Fendrick called the city process a “balancing act.”
Really? Because in our world, a balancing act suggests a tightrope walk finished without windmilling off into the abyss.
This thing – the largest budget shortfall in Whitehorse history – seems more like a death plunge to the road far below.
And that’s without considering the fact business leaders and others were calling for a short delay to trim this precise amount from the budget at the beginning of the year.
So, you can look at it two ways: it’s a good thing the strenuously denied padding wasn’t pulled from the city budget. Why?
Because administration couldn’t have covered the cost of this colossal loss after years of wrongheaded, and very expensive, court challenges to employee raises.
The other way to look at this is to consider how much more soft cash is sitting on the city books after successive four per cent annual tax increases.
And how much are people going to be dinged next year by a staff and council looking to cover the cost of this year’s “shortfall?”
It might be prudent for city staff to start the budget process earlier than usual this year.
Because the chamber, and others, are likely to be asking for a few more meetings to trim the fat.