City council received an early look at next year's budget Tuesday, but it was comments from Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti that had some members up in arms.
After describing a proposed new budget process that would see planning done on a two-year budget cycle rather than every year, CAO Ed Archer said pay increases for staff under collective agreements and higher WSIB costs are adding $11.7 million to the budget alone. And there's also higher energy costs, in part due to the carbon tax, more spending on snow removal and more money for Greater Sudbury Transit driving up municipal costs.
The current property tax hike estimate is 5.6 per cent, but Archer said staff is committed to delivering a budget with an increase of no more than 3.5 per cent.
Signoretti waited until his colleague asked questions, then read a statement blasting the entire process. Council and staff should be focused on limiting property tax increases to the rate of inflation, he said. Instead, he said staff were attempting to “desensitize” the public by talking about a 5.6-per-cent hike, then passing one at 3.5 per cent.
Not only is it “disrespectful” to the taxpayer, he said it was “fear-mongering” to tell residents the only way to maintain services is to increase property taxes.
“Let's stop the madness,” Signoretti said. “Enough with the old city hall.”
Councillors should direct staff to find a way to get it done, he said, and break the city's “addiction to revenue.”
“Where is the leadership?” he asked.
The comments didn't sit well with his colleagues. It was fine, said Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier, to make sweeping statements in a “soliloquy” condemning everyone and the entire process, but where is Signoretti's plan?
“I would be more than happy to review or entertain any motion anyone wants to bring to improve the process,” Cormier said. “But for heaven's sake, propose something ... It's put up or shut up. That's how it works here.”
And Mayor Brian Bigger said Signoretti is one of a few on council who vote not to support the budget, and treat it as a license to criticize everyone else.
“But it leaves it to the rest of us to carry the budget load and do our best for citizens,” Bigger said. “I take offence to any suggestion that council is being disrespectful to anyone.”
He added that Signoretti isn't proposing solutions and isn't demonstrating he understands the process. Unless he has concrete proposals for them to consider, “this is basically just a waste of our time.”
And Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo said they receive an early budget projection so there's time to plan, rather than waiting until the fall when there's less time to prepare and make tough decisions.
“The insinuation that staff makes all the decisions is categorically incorrect,” Jakubo said. “We are being 100-per-cent transparent.”
And Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland, who just completed his first budget process since being elected last October, said he's quickly realized that there's not a lot of glory in the day-to-day job of a councillor, but it's vital work for the community.
“We're all here to do the best that we can,” he said.
To suggest otherwise, without evidence, “is a little problematic.”
In the end, council directed staff to bring back options to reduce the increase to 2.5 and three per cent, as well as an option to add a one-per-cent levy solely to be directed to roads.