City council is now facing a $64 million question.
That’s the size of the surplus from last year that came in thanks to mother nature, which meant $26 million wasn’t spent clearing snow in 2016. Even with that there is another $38.3 million in savings that staff found throughout the year.
The budget report going to city council next Tuesday recommends that $20 million of the surplus be used on 2016 operations, as well as pay for few vehicles for the fire department, and fund the Cornerstones housing program.
The rest will go into the financial stabilization reserve which is there for emergencies.
However, council will ask questions and will debate the merits of spending for some of the things that didn’t make the grade when decisions were made in December.
“There were a few items that were in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars that were really those ‘nice-to-haves’, but sort of a one-time-only, so I’d be certainly interested in that,” said Coun. Andrew Knack who is on some time off, and is out of the city.
Knack was seen as a swing vote, who voted ‘no’ on some key items, like $335,000 to bring back Nuit Blanche for a second extended go-around.
“When I voted no to them originally my comment was I wanted to make sure we actually finish with a surplus. I was certainly open to considering them when we had a $28 million surplus so having a substantially higher surplus would make me far more willing to give them consideration again at the appropriate time.”
Key to Knack’s thinking is the question of what is the basis for the $38.3 million that was saved.
“The question would be on the remaining items, is this something that we actually see as an on-going savings for future years or is it still truly all of that $64 million is as one time savings? Depending on the response and depending on how much of that $64 million is truly one-time will help to determine whether some of those other items funded.”
“There’s certainly some projects that had merit,” he said.
“There were a lot of good things on that list, obviously I don’t think we’re going to fund every single item that was on that list just because we’ve got that kind of money. I think you have to take a step back and recognize that this is a positive, but we don’t need to get too carried away. We need to compare all of the projects that maybe were passed over, but maybe look at some other items that weren’t around when we were deliberating the budget.”
In November, the city estimated it could see a surplus of $28.4 million, nearly half of which would be saved from the snow and ice removal budget.
Going through the numbers, the report said the city spent $8.3 million less than budgeted due to personal factors like unfilled vacancies, $5.9 million less for consulting costs due to rescheduled projects and $4.3 million less for contractors due to less demand and more work being done in-house.