City councillors will be considering a growing list of budget options as they work toward passing a 2015 budget with no tax increase and no layoffs.
As the process moves forward, options to save or spend money are added to a virtual parking lot, where the proposals are 'parked' until it's time to actually make decisions. At that point, each item is voted on and the ones that receive the most support are added to the budget -- if a way to pay for them is found.
Meeting on Tuesday, members of the finance committee added several items to the parking lot, totalling almost $1.2 million. And that doesn't include a motion to give the Art Gallery of Sudbury $200,000 in permanent operating funds -- an increase of $100,000 -- beginning in 2016.
The two biggest items were for $250,000 in funding for watershed studies, and $800,000 to improve the city's cycling infrastructure.
Those ideas were moved by Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh, who said after the meeting her proposals would not affect council's goal of freezing taxes. For example, she wants to get the money to improve the city's cycling infrastructure from the roads budget.
“I'm asking for the reallocation of the dollars set aside for expanding roads, or building new roads,” McIntosh said, emphasizing road resurfacing and repair projects wouldn't be affected. “I would like just a portion set aside for a new budget item for cycling infrastructure.
“By the same token, I'm asking for money for watershed studies to come out of existing capital envelopes. It won't affect the levy whatsoever.”
She compared it to taking money already in the city's bank account and investing it in cycling infrastructure and water quality.
“These are two things that people have been clamouring for,” McIntosh said. “And these are important – our water quality is important, and active transportation is really, really important.”
Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann made an impassioned plea for permanent operating funding for Sudbury's art gallery, saying the city's support for the gallery ranks among the lowest among major cities in Canada.
“That doesn't speak well in terms of how we value the arts,” Landry-Altmann said.
She said the city already spends more than $1 million subsidizing arenas, why not the art gallery?
“The art gallery is someone's arena,” Landry-Altmann said.
She pointed out that the oath councillors took as part of the Greater Sudbury Charter at the beginning of the term committed them to fostering arts and culture in the city. Mayor Brian Bigger agreed.
“Just to be true to ourselves, this is something that should be seriously considered,” Bigger said.
After the meeting, Landry-Altmann said she was still committed to working toward a tax freeze, but not at any cost. She believes they can reallocate existing dollars and still reach their goal.
“Are we going to get to zero? That is what we voted on,” she said. “How we get there I guess is something to be determined.”
But she warned if key projects and programs must be cut to freeze taxes, she's not necessarily on board.
“I'll wait to see what is being cut, what is not being cut, and at what cost are we doing this,” she said. “I think as we're working our way through it everybody's going to come to the same conclusion. Let's have a look at what it really means.
“This is hard, as I think it should be.”
Here's a list of some of the items on the budget parking lot, which will be voted on individually as the budget process moves forward.
-- $20,000 for the Rayside-Balfour Youth Centre for building repairs and more programs;
-- $20,000 for the Sudbury Action Centre for youth to extend its hours of operation and hire staff;
-- $27,000 for the Sudbury Regional Soccer Centre to help them address their operating deficit;
-- $30,000 in operating grants for the Junction Creek Stewardship;
-- $50,000 for an operating grant for Crime Stoppers;
-- $250,000 for watershed studies;
-- $800,000 to improve the city's cycling infrastructure.
Councillors will be back in budget meetings today, with the goal of passing this year's budget by March 5.