It was encouraging that Richmond Municipal Council was able to pass a balanced budget on time, and equally disheartening that this same elected body was unable to approve changes to its travel expense policy.
During a special meeting on April 27, councillors voted in favour of the $14,032,000 balanced budget which maintains residential taxes at 80 cents, while the commercial rate holds steady at $2.10.
Highlights included revenue from increases in assessment, as well as from the Deed Transfer Tax. The budget set aside $575,000 for sustainable infrastructure improvements, as well as investments in economic development and communications.
The municipality received increased revenue from the sale of metals and organics, interest revenue, recycling education, and funding from the province. Public works revenues increased by $65,000 due to a budgeted increase in tipping fees and the metal reclamation review at the waste management facility.
One of the biggest highlights of the budget includes a revised grant structure under which grant funding has been reduced by $205,000.
In addition to rising education, housing and transportation costs, police protection costs increased by 1.3 per cent from last year, public works expenditures increased by $111,514 and recreation expenditures increased by $3,230.
Last August, councillors passed their budget six weeks after a series of false starts resulted in a defeat for the county’s fiscal plan at the municipality’s annual general last July.
During the regular monthly meeting of Richmond Municipal Council on April 23, motions to amend the hours of operation, as well as the credit card, hospitality, and hiring policies were approved, but councillors were unable to pass a motion to change sections of the travel expense policy.
Although he has no problem with municipal officials receiving confirmation to attend events, Richmond Warden Brian Marchand told council the issue of permission between the warden and CAO needs to be clarified.
Marchand also took issue with the wording of other sections which he asserted were not clear, contained errors, or were not discussed by the policy committee.
District 2 councillor Alvin Martell was opposed to further changes, noting that the suggestions made by the warden were “already shot down.”
Richmond Deputy Warden and policy committee member James Goyetche explained that the 12 members of the policy committee – including five councillors, the CAO, three municipal staff employees, and three members-at-large – spent hours crafting the amendments and democratically voted to recommend those changes.
Goyetche added the regular monthly meeting was not the time to introduce last minute changes.
To say the least, it was disappointing that amendments to the travel expense policy were not ratified by councillors.
This was one of the policies – along with the credit card and hospitality policies – which were at the centre of a spending scandal which paralyzed council into dysfunction, involved serious public allegations that became the subject of a defamation lawsuit, evolved into multiple police and government investigations, and eventually led to the resignation of the former CAO.
The issue of permission to attend events between the warden and CAO needs to be clarified, and can be carried out in subsequent policy committee meetings, but failing to pass policy changes because suggestions that had already been rejected by that same committee were not put into the new policy, is unfair to members of the committee, council and residents.
In order to fully put the mess of past years behind the municipality, real change has to occur and for that to take place, financial measures have to be implemented.
In the absence of spending rules with teeth, council is guilty of not backing up talk with action.