council update, December 13, 2009

It's a perfect day for writing (and reading!) council reports -- somehow, the thought of outdoor activity is not very inviting with the thermometer showing minus 30 on the front deck.

Some of my regular email list will get this update in their inboxes, and others -- alas -- will not get it right away.  That's becaused I only managed to copy part of my contact list before my desktop went belly-up last week.  Soon (I hope) the ever-patient, ever-helpful Ken Lee will salvage all my files and load them on my new computer, and all will be well.


I understand that the park has extended the deadline for comments to be submitted.  If you have not yet put in your comments about the plan, you now have until January 8.  It appears that your best avenue for input is via park planner Mike Murtha  You can also check this link for information:


At the December 2 meeting, as you've probably read, council passed a motion closing debate on the operating portion of the budget.  The budget will not actually become official until it is passed along with the capital budget, probably in January.

This budget, as it now sits, would result in a 3.1% tax increase.  The cost-of-living salary increase for staff will be determined after the Alberta consumer price index figures for 2009 become available in mid-January.  Based on the council financial plan, the increase will be the sum of Alberta CPI for 2008 and 2009.  Alberta CPI for 2008 was 3.1%, and for 2009, it's expected to be approximately 0%.

You may have also seen that I voted against closing the operating budget.  This is because I feel that we have not done everything we can to respond to the very real distress in our community and the uncertainties in our future, and I wanted some time to see if we could do more. 

However, something that has become glaringly obvious to me in this year's discussions is that the present budget process makes it very difficult for an individual member of council to propose meaningful changes.  In part because there are no departmental committees in which councillors work directly with staff throughout the year, we are not familiar with the day-to-day service levels and costs.  In part because there is no finance committee, we are unfamiliar with the options that have been considered and evaluated before the budget comes to council as a draft.  It's therefore difficult to answer the question that is inevitably raised, "OK, if you want to cut the budget, tell us what service you want cut".  Essentially, although the target figure identified in council's financial plan is described as a starting point, barring a miracle, it becomes the ending point as well.

That's why I think that we need some changes to the overall process before the next council is faced with it in the fall of 2010.   Councillor Karlos has proposed zero-based or service-based budgeting, which are great ideas.  I am going to propose an overall effort to reduce (through attrition, not through layoffs) the number of permanent staff at the town, so that we hire people as term employees where possible, in order to have more flexibility when the economy takes a nose-dive.  I am also going to propose a set of information that could be supplied by each department with their budget, in order to give council options for decreasing (or in good times, increasing) costs through levels of service.  These discussions should happen at council early in the new year.

You might well ask why I'm just reaching this conclusion now, in my third round of budget discussions.  I'll freely admit it, the learning curve has been a long one.  The first year, I just tried to understand the system that is now in place.  Last year, events overtook us, with Mayor Stutz's proposal for a 0% tax increase replacing the previous financial plan.  It has only been this year that I have clearly seen the impact of the current approach on council's ability to make changes at the budget review meetings.

Everyone involved in the budget has worked long and hard, and done their best according to their values and beliefs.  There is no question that Mayor Stutz's leadership (and staff's sacrifice) at budget time in 2008 gave Banffites a much better break than was offered by other municipalities around Alberta.  There's no question that staff worked hard this year to bring the overall numbers down to the level proposed in the draft budget.  There's no question that the council members who voted for the budget as it now sits believe that it is the best balance of service and cost that can be achieved.  And there's no question that our tax levels are lower than those in many comparable communities.

But there's also no question in my mind that we are looking at continuing tough times ahead in our one-and-only industry, and I think we will need a more nimble, less incremental budgeting process to respond appropriately.


The group met again on the evening of December 7, and reviewed everyone's perspectives on the existing purpose of the BHC and how well it is living up to that purpose.  I just sat in for half the meeting as an observer, as I arrived home from Ottawa at 8:30 pm that evening.  Councillor MacDonald, who is council's alternate for the working group, replaced me at the table.  The group meets next on the evening of December 21 (7 pm, council chambers).  Meetings are open to members of the public who wish to observe the discussion.


You can see the council package for December 14 by clicking on this link:

Highlights include ... 

Business licence Schedule B fees

The Banff Lake Louise Tourism Bureau's board of directors is proposing a 2% increase in these fees for 2010.  This increase requires council approval.  You can see the report starting on page 46 of the council package.

The Land Use Bylaw

The vast majority of time in the meeting will be taken up by the continuing review of second reading of the Land Use Bylaw.  You can see the summary of what has already happened with this in the minutes of the last meeting, starting on page 14 of the package.  You can also see all the background reports by clicking on the link above and then scrolling down through the list.  We will be continuing on to talk about side-yard setbacks, design guidelines, etc. at this meeting. 


As always, the opinions expressed in this post are mine alone, and do not purport to be those of the Town of Banff or Banff Town Council.  I welcome your comments!