“A budget doesn’t make you creative. A lack of budget does.”

Tomorrow is the final scheduled meeting for Aurora’s 2014 Operating Budget.

Instead of providing recorded budget meetings, or easy to comprehend documents the Town of Aurora simply posts reports to a page on their cheesy excuse for a website here: http://www.aurora.ca/2014budget

The general public is not going to sift through all this material.

There is absolutely no context or rationale communicated for what is being proposed.

And everyone at town hall continually scratches their heads as to why public engagement is so low.

Facepalm.

The Town of Aurora isn’t the only municipality responsible for drafting a budget, yet its efforts seem to suggest otherwise.

Open Spending ( http://openspending.org/ ) is an open source project aimed to track every government financial transaction across the world and present it in useful and engaging forms for everyone from a school-child to a data geek.

Sounds like a lofty goal, but cities in Canada are getting on board including Ottawa and Toronto: https://openspending.org/datasets?territories=CA

In the U.S. Open Budget Oakland has embraced the initiative: http://openbudgetoakland.org/index.html

They claim it promotes a deeper understanding of the city budget, so that citizens, officials, and other stakeholders can engage in more informed dialogue about how the City of Oakland currently works and how it should in the future.

Obviously something that is lacking here in Aurora.

It’s not like undertaking such a communication outreach program is an unreasonable expectation for Aurorans to consider given that the town is allocating close to $600,000 in its 2014 Operating budget just for the sole purpose of communications.

Even with the service level review that was conducted it is highly unlikely that no more than a handful of Aurorans know how much is being spent on communications, because it isn’t being communicated to them.

When reviewing the budget materials from 2010 to present, I almost expected to see a line item for irony.

Comparing data sets over the years does prove to be illuminating in how costs at the town are allowed to balloon, and perhaps that is something it would prefer not to communicate.

Here is the budget breakdown of the Town of Aurora’s Communications Department over the past 5 years:

2009 – $389,900
2010 – $455,700
2011 – $490,800
2012 – $507,100
2013 – $540,000 * approximate

Add that up and you’ll see that the Town of Aurora has spent over $2,382,000 on Communications over the past 5 years.

And that’s after some self back patting over finding cost savings of $10,000 a year by spending less on print materials.

So what is the R.O.I on this multi-million dollar spend?

In 2010 the redesign of the Economic Development Website, which is pathetic and not mobile friendly cost $20,000.

The addition of the Manager of Communications role brought an annual cost of $109,000.

In 2011 there is a line item for “New Communications Channels” at a cost of $17,500

There is also a note that reads:

Historically, the bulk of the department’s marketing budget was used to publish the Notice Board and other ad hoc advertisements as needed.

In 2011 the department will start promoting more corporate initiatives, programs and services from a wider range of departments than it has in the past. The department’s strategic plan proposes designing and executing fully integrated marketing and communication plans for at least four departments to help them achieve their corporate goals. This has never been done before and additional funds will be required to purchase advertising space in local media, including radio, print, online and other broadcast mediums.

That was back in 2011.

It was confirmed at the January 13th meeting by the C.A.O. that marketing and communications continue as they have historically.

WTF?

Over this term of council the Communications department budget has seen an increase of $200,000.

They are poised to commit $580,000 in 2014.

This works out to over $10 per Auroran.

If the Communications Department’s “strategic plan” was reviewed by the “Executive Management Team” or anyone at the council table I would like to hear how the department’s performance even remotely aligns with the principles of innovation or sustainability in the strategic plan.

Perhaps members of council are afraid of being labelled as micro-managers if they do anything to change course.

On the flip side they lose the ability to claim they have been fiscally responsible if they don’t.

The fact that the Communications department has a strategic plan at all just ads insult to injury and serves to validate P.J. O’Rourke’s belief:

“It is a popular delusion that the government wastes vasts amount of money through inefficiency and sloth. Enormous effort and elaborate planning are required to waste this much money.”

Aurora calls it a budget.

The more our elective representatives budge, the less we get.

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