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Neil Godbout: City of Prince George needs to bear down on spending, infrastructure

Annual operational savings should be the seed money for infrastructure investment.
Prince George City Hall 2
City Hall in Prince George.

The die were cast for the City of Prince George’s 7.58 per cent tax increase for 2023 long before the October 2022 municipal election that elected Simon Yu to the mayor’s office.

But if Yu and anyone else on city council wants things to be different for 2024, they need to be giving direction to administration now.

While Coun. Kyle Sampson’s effort to shave $150,000 in spending from human resources and emergency programs failed, it was commendable. It’s too small, however – just 0.1 per cent of the operating budget – and the numbers and departments seem arbitrarily chosen.

Rather, city council needs to take the words of city manager Walter Babicz that “staff is always looking for efficiencies” and ask him to prove it.

Now is the time for mayor and council to direct Babicz to bring forward a report this coming fall, in advance of the 2024 budget submission, with a one per cent cut in the city’s operating spending.

From there, it is Babicz’s job to spend the next nine months identifying savings opportunities and bringing them forward for council consideration.

In fact, this should be an annual exercise for city administration, to show both their political masters and city taxpayers in black and white how serious local government is about holding spending in line.

Should those savings be used to reduce future tax increases?

Absolutely not.

Babicz informed city council this week that the city continues to fall behind on spending to maintain infrastructure. Essential maintenance projects (stormwater drains, sidewalks, trails, parking lots, playgrounds, etc.) budgeted for $9.4 million in 2024, $7 million in 2025, $6.1 million in 2026 and $6.2 million in 2027 currently have no funding source.

Annual operational savings should be the seed money for that infrastructure investment.

It’s the equivalent of a homeowner recognizing that the hot water tank needs to be replaced this year, the washer and dryer next year, and the roof the year after that, so spending habit vigilance and saving now can pay for some or all of that future spending, rather than making no changes and paying for essential upkeep with a loan or by renewing and extending the house mortgage.

Over to you, mayor and council.

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