My thoughts on the St. Catharines 2010 Draft Budget – Part 3 – Spending reviews

I don’t understand how, in the year 2010, municipal governments could still exist that don’t regularly tear apart the books.  Not your standard “Let’s go through the budget and see where we can trim” sort of thing, but an honest-to-goodness, “Justify EVERYTHING” kind of budget process.

I will preface my entire argument by saying that it would be unfair to suggest that money is being wasted hand over fist.  Most city workers undoubtedly work hard to keep expenses down.  With that said, however, I also have no doubt that people who work inside a bureaucracy develop two unfortunate habits: 1) they start to forget that it’s taxpayers money they’re spending, and 2) they start to think that because something has always been worth spending money on, it will always be worth spending money on.

And with that, I have to endorse the proposal put forth by the Chamber of Commerce in their budget presentation.  A comprehensive, regularly scheduled services review would force city managers and their staff to sit down and re-evaluate what is important within their departments and what no longer serves the purpose it was intended.  As the Chamber pointed out, the two departments that underwent this review process found cost-savings for the taxpayer.  This was not an anomaly; other departments will find savings as well, and those savings either need to be re-directed to the benefit of the taxpayer, or they need to be returned to the taxpayer; one or the other.

Furthermore, a policy needs to be put in place to ensure this isn’t a one-off process.  At a minimum of once each election cycle, comprehensive service reviews should be done by each city department, coordinated around budget time each year and staggered over the four years of the council.  This continual search for savings and a proper examination of just what it is the city offers would be a good way to offer all of us taxpayers in the city an explanation for just how and why our money is being spent.

Justifying where the money goes will never be too onerous a task for those who are spending other people’s money; it’s the proper way to do things.  A half-cocked demand for a “Zero budget increase” as council asked for this year is not sound budgetary practice; asking city bureaucrats to take a thoughtful look at how they can improve service at the city is.

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