OUR VIEW: Don’t fear the budgets

It may not seem like the sexiest of topics, but these civic budgets and spending decisions often have the most direct impact on taxpayers.

Saanich Peninsula municipal leaders are in the midst of budget time and residents have very limited opportunities to have any input on the services and spending within their communities.

That is not to say that people do not have a chance to influence how town and district councillors will spend tax dollars and prioritize big-ticket items, such as fire halls, overpasses, civic buildings and more.

Those chances, however, are typically one-way streets — as long as a civic body adheres strictly to the Local Government Act.

Sidney Councillor Mervyn Lougher-Goodey pointed this out during their Feb. 2 regular meeting. While he was commenting during a different presentation, what he said holds true for the input process into the 2015-2019 Financial Plan.

In essence, if council doesn’t relax the meeting protocol, councillors can hear from residents, but not respond to questions. And vice-versa.

On Monday, Feb. 16, Sidney councillors gather at Town hall to address specific areas of the budget. It’s the first real opportunity for council and the community to weigh in, says Director of Corporate Services Andrew Hicik. It’s a committee of the whole session and while it generally offers more chances for discussion between council and staff, residents can often feel on the outside, looking in.

If people do address council’s planned spending and service levels, don’t expect a quick answer.

This means it’s up to people who wish to make a point to be prepared. It can be said that a well thought-out argument, one that is delivered with confidence and clarity, can be very convincing.

Go in unprepared and that issue you’re fighting for, or against, might not get the desired response.

Sidney, to be fair, is not alone in this process. North Saanich and Central Saanich are also in their budgeting process this month.

It may not seem like the sexiest of topics, but these civic budgets and spending decisions often have the most direct impact on taxpayers.

These plans also provide some insight into the long-range direction of the community itself. It’s worth the time to listen in.