Greater Sudbury's finance and administration committee held a lengthy budget discussion Tuesday night, providing a roadmap for staff to return with a direction for the 2021 budget.
The committee received a 2021 budget update from staff on Oct. 20 -- a report that was presented for information only -- but Finance Committee Chair Mike Jakubo indicated that the committee would be voting on a number of directions in order to create a clear framework for staff to work from in attempting to meet councillors' expectations.
Five major themes have emerged from staff interviews with individual councillors with regards to what direction the 2021 budget is to take:
- Facility rationalization
- Avoiding competition with the private sector, specifically in the leisure section
- Revisiting the Junction West project to determine if it is still a priority
- Active transportation
- Community Energy and Emissions Plan
Other items that have cropped up through budget discussions include user-fee adjustments, specifically with support to offset impacts to low-income citizens in order to eliminate barriers to access to services.
Another item raised was the under-utilization of leisure services and facilities.
In both instances, council has the option to direct staff to prepare business cases to look at all of the above mentioned issues that have been brought forward.
A previous report brought to the finance and administration committee indicated a $13 million shortfall that would need to be recovered to limit the property tax increase to 3.9 per cent.
But, based on preliminary numbers submitted by city departments, that number actually stands at closer to $16 million as of Oct. 20, staff reported.
COVID-19 expenses and increased anticipated lost revenues in the areas of leisure and transit are estimated to be in the neighbourhood of $3.5 million to $4 million.
The committee sifted through six suggested directions for staff to use as their framework before bringing back their next budget report on Nov. 3. Five of the six suggested directions were passed, with the committee defeating a direction that would have instructed staff to prepare a business case to assess the potential implications of suspending the Junction West project.
Ward 6 Coun. René Lapierre introduced a direction of his own that was passed.
"That staff present an analysis of options for capital planning that anticipates additional debt financing, including recommendations for capital projects that would be appropriate to debt finance as part of the 2021 budget process for council consideration".
The other directions that the committee has agreed to pass on to staff are as follows:
That staff develop a business case for adjustments to user fees that, among other details reflects the following features:
- Includes allowances/offsets to allow for continued support to low-income citizens such that fees do not become a barrier to access;
- Provides estimates, where applicable, of projected usage rates to identify both maximum and most likely revenue levels.
That staff develop a business case for rationalizing facilities to improve utilization levels.
That where there are plans to use one-time funds in 2021 to cover COVID-related shortfalls, such as Safe Restart Funding, the special capital levy or other similar funding sources, staff ensure that:
- Ongoing service expectations are supported by ongoing revenue sources, and;
- The use of non-recurring or "one-time" funds is limited to funding "one-time" or temporary expenditures.
Whereas the capital budget is intended to address the community's significant infrastructure renewal needs and those investments help minimize operating expenditures for repairs and maintenance, the 2021 capital budget should include sufficient funds to fulfil multi-year projects approved in prior periods and support new projects that reflect council's strategic plan priorities.
Sudbury.com will provide a more in depth look at Tuesday's budget discussion tomorrow, so be sure to check back with us.
You can watch the Oct. 20 Finance and Administration Committee meeting here.