noble experiment or fiscal chicanery?

The Town of Aurora’s Operating Budget is well underway but no one is saying it is nearly as sexy as Toronto’s 2014 Operating Budget:  http://metronews.ca/voices/ford-for-toronto/866892/budget-101-how-torontos-staff-recommend-operating-budget-was-balanced/ .

Are you paying attention anyways?

After reading this Globe and Mail article you may want to:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/major-city-budgets-fail-to-reflect-actual-spending-report-says/article16361646/?cmpid=rss1&click=dlvr.it

I’m not suggesting that Aurora is guilty of what is outlined in the Globe and Mail piece, in fact the accrual accounting method is outlined in the town’s audited financial statements available online here: http://www.aurora.ca/aurora/financialstatements

Of course the Town has been found guilty of audit issues reported as recently as late 2012: http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/1424778-aurora-council-makes-audit-issues-public/

What we do know is that according to the recent service level review Aurora is the third costliest to run on a per capita basis when compared to the following seven municipalities : Newmarket, Whitchurch-Stouffville, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Fort Erie, Pickering and Milton

It was also pointed out in this Error Banner piece that Aurorans also typically pay more taxes per home : http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/4230464-aurora-services-get-thumbs-up/

In her November 24th 2013 piece in the Toronto Star titled “The true cost of high quality public services” : http://www.thestar.com/business/personal_finance/2013/11/24/the_true_cost_of_high_quality_public_services_roseman.html

Ellen Roseman says “We must have that adult conversation about the public services we need, and the taxes we’ll have to pay to provide them, and we must have it soon.”

It is hard to have that kind of conversation when our Mayor is quoted in the Error Banner here: http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/3858245-aurora-reverses-decision-on-hillary-mcintyre-park/ as saying “If you throw enough money at anything, it’s going to work.”

Interesting philosophy as it seems to be shared by the Region who is over $2 billion in debt, expecting to balloon between now and 2020 as covered in this Banner piece here:
http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/4279629-region-will-cut-amount-it-borrows/

York’s debt was projected to exceed $5 billion as of 2020 under its original long-term capital plan, but, as per the new strategy, the revised forecast anticipates the region’s debt won’t reach $4 billion.

I particularly enjoy Centre for Urban Research and Land Development director David Amborski’s quote that reads:

“A certain amount of debt is unavoidable in a municipal context and shouldn’t be cause for too much concern as long as there’s a sound plan in place to pay it back”

As Aurora is proceeding with debt financing both the Joint Ops & Youth Centre renovations with a combined sticker price of approximately $27 Million what is the sound plan in place to pay that back?

Amborski also warns that “You can’t just treat development charges as a bottomless pit” and that “You don’t want to be a bedroom community.” Two things Aurora is guilty of propagating through the last decade of its budgets.

Seeing how the Mayor likes to flaunt his leadership bookshelf off at council perhaps another volume he should consider adding is this one:
http://www.amazon.com/Fiscal-Sustainability-Theory-Practice-Handbook/dp/082135874X

It is hard pressed to find more than a handful of items in both the Capital or Operating budgets that align with this KPMG report on fiscal sustainability:
http://www.kpmg.com/ca/en/issuesandinsights/articlespublications/pages/shifting-gears-fiscal-sustainability-the-future-of-public-services.aspx

What is also discouraging is the level of engagement.
I was accompanies by only 2 other audience members in the council chambers last Monday.

Newmarket provides more consideration for community consultation/engagement in their budget process as evidenced in this June 2013 report: http://www.newmarket.ca/en/townhall/resourcelibrary/2013-272014BudgetProcessUpdate-signedoriginal.pdf which reads:

Council has emphasized increased community consultation/engagement as part of their Strategic Priorities and has requested that staff utilize new and traditional tools to provide multiple channels for citizens to voice their opinion on the budget. In a two-phased approach, Corporate Communications, Financial Services and Strategic Initiatives will continue to work together with council to effectively engage and communicate the 2014 budget process with Newmarket residents.

These aren’t just empty words either. Newmarket developed an interactive budget tool and is even considering paying residents for their feedback: http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/3875715-newmarket-could-pay-you-for-your-budget-input/

The latter is something I proposed to council in my 2011 presentation:
https://wattstrending.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/anyone-notice-how-the-word-discretionary-precedes-the-word-fund/

The entire exercise in Aurora has been reduced to a poor spectator sport summed up exceptionally well in this Dilbert strip:

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