Taxpayers can scrutinize the City of Powell River’s draft financial plan earlier than ever before.
It has long been Powell River City Council’s goal to have the financial plan finalized by the end of the calendar year rather than waiting until the May deadline set by the province. The city rolled out the Draft 2016 to 2020 Five-Year Financial Plan at a public open house on Wednesday, November 25th, at the Powell River Recreation Complex.
Mayor Dave Formosa, in attendance at the open house, said the city was ‘way ahead of the curve,’ in comparison to previous years and added, “we’re happy about that.”
Formosa said the city made a commitment at the beginning of this council’s term of office to avoid waiting until the last day for budgetary approval.
“It has been the desire of Mac Fraser, our Chief Administrative Officer, Shehzad Somji, our Chief Financial Officer, and our Finance Committee Chair Councillor Russell Brewer to simplify the process,” Formosa said.
“The desire was to have less paper floating around that’s difficult to understand. We wanted to get it to the public in time for it to be looked at. We’ll have enough time to debate it amongst ourselves and have it presented without the pressure of the deadline coming upon us.”
Brewer said the earlier release of the financial plan provides certainty to the city’s managers, to city council and the public. He added that it’s helpful to have a financial plan that runs on a calendar year basis, rather than from May from one year to May of the next, which has previously been the norm.
“Doing it earlier gives everyone a chance to participate,” he said. “We have time to respond to input.” The process for public input was previously cramped due to the short time between when the budget was typically finalized and the deadline to submit it to the province.
Brewer said the earlier release of the financial plan this year was largely a matter of rethinking the approach.
Formosa added that this year’s version of the financial plan has been streamlined, with the desire to present important details and data. “It was the more relevant statements that were delivered,” he said. “At the council level it really needs to be a higher-level strategic view of where we are at.”
Because this is a five-year plan, the future must be considered. Moving forward, this community, similar to most others, faces challenges, according to Brewer.
“We are facing an infrastructure deficit,” he said. “Everyone has got it. We have to be creative in how we meet that gap.”
Formosa said the city is at the forefront of realizing new revenue sources. The funds are not huge but they do contribute to the city’s bottom line. For example, the city will be receiving new annual revenues from FortisBC for the passage of natural gas piping through city lands. Leasing of the city’s barge facilities and ramp facilities also adds to the bottom line. The city is trying to extract revenue from some of its dormant assets, Formosa said.
This type of revenue generation is going to help meet the gaps in funding with some of the large capital projects the city has on the horizon, such as Haslam Lake waterworks, the new fire hall and liquid waste management.
In guiding the draft financial plan, Somji said the city has been looking at initiating the financial planning process earlier for years. “Staff was all in favour of it and I don’t think it’s taken up more time than it would normally,” Somji said. “They just had to reschedule their time frame.”
There are operational advantages to employing this financial planning methodology. In terms of capital items, getting the earlier start may provide the window to complete projects in a single calendar year rather than carrying them over from one to another.
The city will still have to deal with its tax rate bylaw in May. Somji said the city does not get the information from other governments such as the Powell River Regional District until that time. However, the budget process that’s been undergone will allow the city to set the tax rate bylaw for municipal taxes in advance and then just plug in the figures from the other sources.
Brewer said he is hoping the public takes the time to look at the draft plan and provide feedback. He would like to get the budget process wrapped up by the end of the year. There is another open house session for Powell River residents to review the budget, scheduled for Wednesday, December 2nd, from 5 – 7 pm at the Cranberry Seniors Centre.
The draft financial plan can be found on the City of Powell River website. There is a link on the homepage titled: Open House – Five Year Financial Plan.
If residents have questions about the financial plan, they can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or give the city a call.