At last Monday's city council meeting, our council members determined that they could relax their spending oversight of our city administration.
Our council reps voted unanimously to recommend a change that would allow the city to overspend on capital projects up to five per cent of the total operating budget ($7.5 million) without coming to city council for authorization.
Previously, the allowable amount was $1 million.
The administration's argument for this change was that with such a large budget (approximately $150 million operating and $50 million capital), it was easy to go over budgeted amounts by a million and city employees did not want to be frequently coming back to council and requesting changes.
Sounds OK when you say it quickly, but what is really happening here is that this recommendation would have our council give up a portion of its cost control ability by approving this request.
Now, the city can run over budget on capital projects by as much as $7.5 million before it has to bring that issue to the attention of our council.
Note also that the five per cent overspend is tied to the operating budget amount but is being applied to the capital budget.
In effect, this change allows the city to overspend on its approved capital budget (assuming the budget is $50 million) by 15 per cent.
Before Monday's decision, our council would be aware of cost overruns when they were smaller and would then have more flexibility concerning where the additional money was going to come from or whether the scope of the work should be reduced to fit the budget.
Now our council only finds out about overruns when they exceed $7.5 million (more in the future because the limit is five per cent of our operating budget so the limit in actual dollars increases as our operating budget increases).
Council would then be forced to borrow money or take money from another account to pay these bills.
This change also means that the city can withdraw $7.5 million from strategic reserves and allocate the funds elsewhere without council approval.
Council would then have to replenish the reserve fund by increasing taxes or depleting another reserve fund.
Our council requires more oversight over our city's spending, not less.
Oversight authority is useless though, if our council has no desire to exercise it.
The council members have been quite clear in that they are unanimous with spend, spend, spend.
This month, council members voted (unanimously of course) to increase spending on the library entrance from $2.67 million to $3.95 million and while they were at it, they increased spending on the library reception area from $388,000 to $410,000.
During our most recent city elections, several of our council members boasted that if elected "I will be working for you."
I'm not sure who the city council is working for but our council is not working to control costs and it is not working to minimize our annual tax burden.