Adventures in Budgetland – Why Is Our Rate So High?
As a ratepayer and new member of the CCHT, I offered to record a video and take notes at the 2017 budget meeting for Hamilton Township on December 15. Having no experience with any meetings such as this, it felt like I was dropped into a rabbit hole and the only way out was to figure out the right questions to ask. Unfortunately these questions just lead to more questions, and I still find myself spinning in the hole. I would like to share, however, what I have learned with anyone who is interested so others might be spared this same ordeal in the future.
Question #1 – Where are we in the 2017 budget process now?
The first opportunity for citizen input was on November 30. I had expected to see the mayor and the councilors there to hear our concerns, but this did not happen. Instead notes were taken which were to be passed on to our elected officials afterwards. At the draft budget meeting that followed on December 15, little discussion of these notes took place and instead salaries and money for capital and operating expenses were announced and projects to be paid for out of reserves were given the green light. The budget, as expected, was passed on December 20.
Is there any other opportunity for input from the ratepayers? Why is there such a rush to pass the budget for Hamilton Township when other municipalities appear to take much longer to complete the process?
When do municipalities engage their communities, and why?
Some of the most common reasons are rather uninspiring; because of legal or other requirements; because it is expected; because it seems like the right thing to do.
Are these reasons really good enough? Perhaps the better reasons is because community engagement can help government to do its job and because it leads to better decision making.
Municipalities are not self-sufficient machines delivering services to passive consumers. Expectations have changed, and the challenges that face municipalities are more complex and require more collaboration than ever before.
No one approach is necessarily better than the other; rather, the approach needs to suite the purpose and individuals involved. The goal is to facilitate genuine opportunities for shared learning and dialogue, and find new ways to work together on common goals.
Embracing engagement as a way of working creates better relationships between municipalities and citizens, and increases trust. It breaks down the formality of traditional engagement practices, and focus on working together. Ultimately, it leads to greater citizen involvement, better decision making and an increased sense of civic pride.
Winter can be the most difficult time for low income families. Here is the link to a Northumberland News Article regarding the new Service Ontario Helpline 211 set up to assist families: http://www.northumberlandnews.com/whatson-story/6955522-northumberland-residents-can-call-211-for-services-in-community/
Please take time to read this and pass on to families you may know who are in need.