After a century of local politicians sitting down each year to work out London’s annual budget, council will now take on the next four all at once.
And while a multi-year approach makes sense to them, many residents are in the dark as to why it’s needed and how anyone can look that far ahead with any sense of certainty.
The 2016-2019 budget was tabled on Jan. 11 and Mayor Matt Brown said it begins a discussion that will change the city’s fortune for years to come.
“One of the other advantages to moving towards a multi-year budget process is it is much more transparent for the public,” Brown said. “Londoners can see where we are going. As we pivot towards the multi-year budget, we can align our priorities with the resources required to execute on them. It is very much about careful planning and forward thinking.”
With this new process expected to require extra close attention, Brown appointed Ward 7 Coun. Josh Morgan to the position of special advisor on the budget.
Morgan said the most important part of the budget debate will be the process put in place by treasurer Martin Hayward.
The discussions, however, will focus on the core components of the budget — capital and operating. But in addition to those, Morgan said, are how they interact with the so-called “big ticket items” that have been made the public face of council’s strategic plan.
“The priorities, you can decide scope and pace and timing, those are all flexible things with the bigger ticket items, as well as, how many to do,” Morgan said. “With the core budget there are a lot of things you aren’t going to change, the roads, the sewers. You might try to find savings and enhancements in the way we provide them, but there are certain services we won’t exit.”
Although there will be the need to have a discussion annually, Morgan said it won’t be on the full budget, but on updates to the existing document.
There are always things like assessment growth and surpluses to address he adds, plus initiatives the city will undertake such as service review and implementing lean culture. Those found savings will “create space” and council must then address what it will do with the savings they create.
Another advantage to talking about a four-year time horizon, Morgan said, is it allows council to set multi-year expectations for the public and build in some predictability.
“Every budget is an estimate, even a one-year budget. That’s a given,” Morgan said. “Projecting those estimates is no different than what we have been doing. Multi-year projections in budgets are not new, multi-year budgeting is.”
That being said, both men emphasized the importance of getting Londoners involved in the budget process. Brown said there will be a number of “high-tech and low-tech” ways for Londoners to engage in this budget process.
There will be Build a Budget sessions, the mayor said, which Londoners can attend in person, along with an app available on the city website.
“When the budget is tabled, it’s civic administration’s draft proposed budget. I guarantee, with 100 percent accuracy, we will change the tabled budget. We do every year,” Morgan said. “That will be done based on the feedback of Londoners and the discussion we have as council.”
The city’s Build a Budget public workshops will take place Saturday, Jan. 16, from 10 a.m. to noon, and Wednesday, Jan. 20, from 6-8 p.m., at Goodwill Industries.
Other budget tools and discussion opportunities are available at www.london.ca/budget.