Budget reflects stable finances

In what is being described as a “status quo” budget, Waterloo city council approved its operating budget for the 2011 year at a meeting on Monday afternoon. Working with a budget of $143.5 million, the 2011 fiscal year will see the city continue its current staff and services, not adding or cutting in either respect.

“Status quo budgets are really meant to make sure that we’re maintaining our services,” said Mayor Brenda Halloran. “We’re not making any changes to services, we’re really keeping everything the same as it was last year.”

Using the Municipal Price Index (MPI), which reflects what the city spends on things such as utilities and maintenance of facilities, council approved a property tax increase of 1.89 per cent that translates to roughly $18 on the average household in Waterloo. This increase is below the national and provincial inflation rates, which are currently at 2.4 and 3.3 per cent, respectively.

“How we set our target, the MPI, is always a matter that generates a lot of discussion,” said Ward Two councillor and chair of the finance committee Karen Scian. “We’re very conservative as a community with our targets and we think that’s fair to our taxpayers.”

With the relatively small tax increase and the ability to maintain all current services and staff, Halloran is confident in the city’s financial position.

“The 1.89 per cent tax increase, it’s keeping everything bare bones, right to the minimum and we’re really working to keep that where it is,” she said. “Financially we’ve really gotten ourselves in a better footing; we’ve really stabilized our finances over the past few years, we’ve been able to build up reserves and we’ve really seen things progress.”

One aspect of the budget remaining status quo that comes as more of a detriment than an asset is the continued debt incurred by RIM Park.
According to Halloran, every year until 2031 the city will have to pay $5 million towards the debt that began 10 years ago, a sum that represents “a huge amount of money for a municipality [Waterloo’s] size.”

While keeping with the status quo, Scian emphasized the need to account for the continuing growth of Waterloo.

“We’re a very rapidly growing community and we have to make sure that we’re always meeting the needs of that,” she said. “I would also say how we deal with growth is a topic that comes up a lot.”

The 2011 budget is essentially meant for the new council – which was inaugurated in December – to plan out its first year in office. However, the city is planning to immediately begin work on its three-year budget for 2012-14.

According to Scian, council is in the process of instituting a new strategic plan that will ultimately determine the direction of the budget that will be released in 2012. The city intends on getting input from its citizens through round table discussions, town hall meetings and online interaction in order to determine what direction the city of Waterloo will go with its new strategic plan.

“We’ve just wrapped up one strategic plan and we’re now initiating a brand new one,” said Scian. “We’re working to get the community’s view of what Waterloo will be and what we will want it to be and that will shape our budget for those three years.”

Halloran stressed the importance of the two universities being involved in these discussions, as in the past the voice of the students has gone unheard.

“Both universities are growing and students are still coming in…. so would love to see student input,” she said. “We need the voice of our students on our strategic play, it can’t just be seniors and adults. This is the perfect time to hear from everyone.”

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