City Hall, by Keila MacPherson
City Hall, by Keila MacPherson

The City of Peterborough is set to finalize its 2015 budget on February 2. The budget was first proposed in early December and has since finished its reviews by individual council members and the Budget Committee.

This past Wednesday January 21, there was a public meeting that saw interested citizens address the city council with their concerns.

The budget is divided into the Operating and Capital budgets. The operating budget allocates funds for recurring and expected costs of the city. The capital budget, on the other hand, is money earmarked for exceptional expenses. Such as infrastructural projects like the Parkway extension.

The operating budget is a topic of little contention as these costs are expected and determined by City Hall staff. “Council instructed staff to prepare a budget that maintained the services of the city at a reasonable rate of increase, but for all intents and purposes, there was nothing new,” said Councillor Henry Clarke, Chairman of the Budget Committee.

There has been some contention over the budget demands of the Peterborough Police Board, which has asked for a budget increase twice what council was prepared to give. Council has advised the police board to lower its demands for a 6.4% increase to the 3.2% that was recommended in the draft budget. Yet, this is something mostly outside of the municipality’s control. 90% of the police budget is allocated toward personnel and salaries which are negotiated through collective bargaining at the provincial level.

The capital budget includes 206 projects with an allocated $76.1 million in funding. Factored into this budget are such projects as the $13 million for a Biosolids management strategy, $5 million for the construction of a landfill, and $2.1 million for the development of the Airport Industrial Park.

Councillor Diane Therrien, representative for Town Ward, is moving to have the Louis Street urban park project moved up in the priorities and allocated funding in this budget. “We want to make sure there’s money and commitment for it as soon as possible,” said Therrien.

Public Meeting

At the public meeting on January 21, citizens alerted council to pertinent issues. While Cllr. Clarke was pessimistic that these concerns would be incorporated into the 2015 budget, he said there is a good chance these remarks will be taken under advisory for the 2016 budget.

Since council has approved the budgetary report, any feedback received from the public is unlikely to be incorporated. “In theory, [the budget] can be changed, but in practice unless there’s a major faux pas, it’s unlikely to change,” said Clarke.

This was the first and only opportunity for the general public to voice their opposition to elements of the budget. The marked absence of public participation was addressed by many citizens at this meeting.

Participatory budgeting (PB) was suggested by Cheryl Lyon as a pilot project for the city in 2016 that would see community groups engaging in a process to spend council’s discretionary capital. Under this method community groups would be able to prioritize certain community oriented projects within certain parameters set by the City. Lyon’s presentation emphasized the need for citizen engagement in municipal politics with PB providing the appropriate mechanism for bridging council and citizen interests.

The Parkway

The Parkway was brought up several times by concerned citizens who felt that the city’s allocation of $2.25 million in the capital budget was taking away from more worthwhile projects. Furthermore, the absence of a confirmed decision by the province is a point of concern.

An integrated transit system, as suggested by Tegan Moss of B!ke, would see funds allocated to pedestrian walkway maintenance and cycle paths away from strategies solely directed at motorists.

By addressing the complete needs of the city and not only the demands of motorists, the transit system can become the infrastructure that the city needs.

Relatedly, Maryam Monsef and Marie Bongard brought up concerns about the incredible wait times for Handi-van users. Monsef called for City Council to make accessibility a priority.

Debt is set to increase by a whopping 40% in this upcoming budget, a point raised by former city councillor Ann Farquharson. This brings concerns about the allocation of finances and whether or not this type of borrowing is advisable.

Trent Connection

Trent University students contribute to the overall City budget through the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program organized through the Government of Canada.

Under this program, federal land holdings (universities, First Nations, office building, harbours, etc.) that benefit from the provision of municipal services, pay a sum of money to these municipalities in lieu of income that could have been derived from taxes.

So, because many university students are not homeowners and do not pay property taxes but benefit from municipal services, Trent is party to a financial exchange that makes up for this imbalance.