As the alternate representative for Port Moody on the Metro Vancouver Board, I attended the Oct 29 meeting of the board at which the 2011 budget was on the agenda. We had previously had a budget 'workshop' meeting on Wednesday (27th) to go over the budget revisions for 2011.
In a nutshell:
Metro Vancouver 2011 Budget, expeditures: $ 603.4 million , + 5.8% (across all functions)
Impact on 'average' household - $ 513 / hh / year , up $ 44 / hh or + 9.4%
Now, the Metro Vancouver budget is a VERY complicated budget, as any $ 600 million dollar budget is likely to be, but, the budget is actually quite transparant, and 'honest'. Particularly, they disburse 'common costs' and admin costs across the various functions (water, sewage, garbage, parks, etc), and the budget is very well analyzed.
Unfortunately, maybe due to the transparancy, there are also things that just LEAP off the page and set off the alarm bells. In particular, those items for me are:
- Solid waste (garbage) tipping fee - increasing from $ 82 to $ 97 per ton - or + 18%, due primarily to a decrease in garbage vs. fixed costs on operating the system. So if we continue to reduce our garbage our 'rate' will just keep going up ? We have seen this before in the 'metered water' discussions, where so much of the cost has NOTHING to do with volume that decreaasing consumption does not achieve efficiencies. YIKES, we need to reduce our garbage for so many reasons, if nothing else, maybe increased fees provide increase motivation to REDUCE !
- Corporate communications - + 19.64 %. Metro Vancouver has a huge budget for communications allowing them to produce the sustainable region tv series and many 'glossy' media releases, etc. Nice... but necessary ? These are tough times ! If nothing else we need to make sure these resources are not duplicates of what is already going on municipally and make sure we are getting full value for these costs.
- Media Relations - + 10.66%. In my opinion, part of the 'media relations' puzzle is that Metro Vancouver is being portrayed as a 'regional government', which it is NOT. It is an association of municipal governments, but, with items like this, seems to be somewhere convenient to hide some expenses from the taxpayers !
- Boards and Committees - + 44% since 2009. This is the one that bugs me the most - this is the salaries and indemnities for mayors and councillors to gather in Burnaby to discuss regional issues - in fact, to FEED THE BEAST that is Metro Vancouver, and where I'm concerned, to hide costs and spending from taxpayers. If we are electing representatives to our municpal councils, and it is in the interest of the municipality to participate in regional planning and operations, then this should be clearly and truthfully identified for the municpal taxpayers to adjudicate .. not buried in their water bills !
So yes, as you might imagine, I am not pleased with the MV budget, so , I had some amendments I was going to propose to the plan - particulary including reducing the expenditrues on those items noted above. After making my first amendment, it became clear that the board wasn't interested in revisiting the 9.4% increase to the taxpayers and I heard several times comments like '..at this late hour', '.. insignificant in the context of the overall budget', and '... it is what it is.' Yes, I find this offensive - its NEVER too late to evaluate the amount of money you are taking from taxpayers pockets, its NEVER insignificant if we can save $ 1 and, frankly, I dont even know what 'it is what it is' means, although I believe Todd Bertuzzi used the quote at some point ??
Metro Vancouver collects the vast majority of its revenue through municipal utility charges , and we all know that muncipal utility charges have increased in the double digit percentage wise for several years running. We are told that this is necessary for our waste, water and sewage systems - and yet, in the Metro Vancouver budget we have millions going to pay municpal politicians meetings, for advertising and PR, and $ 300, 000 for board international travel.
These things might have some merit if money isn't an object, but it's irresponsible spending of taxpayer money, and I voted against the budget for this reason. My preference would have been to amend the budget to remove / reduce some of these items, but as the board had no desire and defeated the two amendments proposed (one by myself and one by Vancovuer Mayor Robertson), they proceeded to approve the budget as written.
Next time a municipal politician says to you 'Its not us, its Metro Vancouver' , ask them to explain that and whether they supported the near 10% increase !