Richmond councillor Alexa Loo defended raising the city budget by 6.3 per cent to ensure vacant staff positions are filled. Anything less, she argued, may lead senior staff to not fill positions as a way of saving money.
The city’s CAO, George Duncan, took exception to the suggestion and called Loo’s description of staff holding back on the hiring process to save money a “fantasy.”
“Your characterization is a fantasy — we don’t do anything like that,” Duncan said in response to Loo at Monday’s finance committee meeting where council was dealing with the capital, operating and library budgets for next year.
Council was looking at increasing the budget by 6.32 per cent in 2020 until they were presented with the option of lowering it to about five per cent with what was termed a “corporate reset.”
This means taking into account that it takes time to fill vacant positions during which time salaries aren’t being paid out. Building this into the budget means there will be less money left over at the end of the year, Duncan said.
No matter how fast staff try, he added, the city is a “huge machine” and it takes time to fill vacant positions, but that doesn’t mean they procrastinate in the hiring process.
Regardless, Loo called the tactic of taking into account how long it takes to hire new staff to project fewer expenses a “slippery slope” and said it wouldn’t fly if council were a board of directors of a corporation.
The city is required to present a balanced budget, and the report points out this means being “conservative” in its estimates; however, this has often resulted in a surplus at the end of the year.
This “slush fund” either goes towards keeping taxes lower in future years or toward one-time expenditures.
The original budget increase of 6.32 per cent would have meant a tax increase of $110 per average household (valued at $1.13 million) in Richmond.
A budget increase of 4.98 per cent would result in a tax increase of about $87 per average household.
A motion by Coun. Chak Au to reduce the one per cent tax for infrastructure replacement to half a per cent, seconded by Coun. Carol Day, didn’t pass.