Councillor refutes North Saanich budget criticism

Coun. Dunstan Browne responds to letter criticizing zero per cent tax increase in North Saanich

Re: Zero increase not a good budget for NS (Letters, April 25)

I welcome criticism which is constructive and factually correct. David Olsen’s is neither.

During the recent election campaign, councillors Craig Mearns, Conny McBride and I (Team North Saanich) advocated fiscal restraint. We said consistently and publicly that we intended, if elected, to support a zero per cent increase budget in 2012. Working closely with our staff and with their support, that is what we did.

The cuts the council made were in respect of excess spending. For instance, our proposed budget estimates for conferences and training for staff and councillors exceeded $210,000. We reduced that by just over 10 per cent. In consultation with our engineer, we reduced the $45,000 budgeted for speed bumps to $20,000 (the 2011 actual expenditure). We reduced our proposed grants in aid from $47,000 to $32,000 (in line with other comparable municipalities).

All the cuts were made in a responsible manner after healthy debate and with the support and co-operation of our senior staff who were most helpful throughout the budget process.

During the entire course of our discussions, the mayor and councillors Celia Stock and Elsie McMurphy opposed almost every proposed excess spending cut. To their credit, in the end, they voted to approve those cuts and achieve a zero-increase budget. Contrary to what Mr. Olsen says, there was absolutely no “raiding of reserves.” The transfers to our water and sewer reticulation replacement reserves were not reduced and in fact continue to be the same as in 2011 ($250,000).

This was not a negative budget – we will actually spend more in 2012 than we did in 2011. An increase in revenues made it possible to achieve the zero per cent increase. I am sure the international companies for which Mr. Olsen claims to have worked would understand that the consistent incremental annual increases in expenditures which most B.C. municipalities indulge in is simply not sustainable without  growth. As far as I know, apart from one other, North Saanich is the only B.C. municipality to have achieved a zero per cent increase budget this year. The cuts we made will not harm municipal services or our infrastructure reserves.

Dunstan Browne

councillor, North Saanich