Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The money tree has blight!

I was taken aback this morning when I read in the SP (Oct. 26/10) that the city's finance manager thinks curbing discretionary spending in light of a budget deficit is not good business. He enhanced the comment by saying that department managers would not be raked over the coals because they forecasted a smaller number and came in over budget.

Budget deficits come out of the stabilization fund. But when the stabilization fund is empty, where does the money come from? The only time the city has a surplus to contribute to the stabilization fund is when they do the annual freeze on discretionary spending. If budgeting is done on "conservative" numbers and no one is held to the budget, what is the point of a budget? Perhaps this philosophy explains why every capital project budget is out of whack.

This council would be wise to note that in the recent Toronto civic election the new mayor handily won the vote on the platform of cut taxes and reduce spending. Mayor-elect Ford summed up his win stating that "people are really fed up with wasteful spending."

Come to think of it, wasn't that a focus of Mayor Atch's first campaign?


  1. It is amazing how a Saskatoon business person, Atch, has been at the head of so much financial mismanagement during his term.

    While I applaud the projects he has gotten off the ground and his commitment to improving the city, his recklessness with our tax money is troubling.

    The comments in today's paper only reaffirm this fear, there is no accountability at all at City Hall right now. The bridge situation (both Traffic and repairs to Sid) is a disaster, the roadwork this summer is a disaster, the spending is a disaster, every budget the city does is a disaster.....yet all we get is flimsy excuses why.

    There is no accountability at all. When the road work went to hell this summer Mike Gutek explained there was nothing to do, no one to blame but Mother Nature. Please, if the employees at City Hall are unable to adapt to challenges on the go, then find new employees.

    Now with the budget we hear the same thing.

    What is worse, is that nary a soul from Atch and his council has uttered anything of sorts about this issue. Sad state of affairs, and the next municipal election cannot come soon enough.

  2. Doesn't this happen EVERY year? About October the city administration says "we are projecting a deficit by year end" and then every body tightens their belts a little bit and come January SUPRISE!! "we had a slight budget surplus"

    And comparing our current council to Toronto is funny. They can only dream of a council/administration as miserly as Saskatoon.

  3. I find it interesting that those that constantly lament high administration costs and high taxes are also often in favour of "find[ing] new employees" to presumably fix all the spending and waste they believe goes on at City Hall.

    I wonder if these same individuals would be in favour of raising salaries at City Hall to a level that would attract the kind of people they are talking about. Do they expect that these new, "better" civic administrators will gladly drop their private sector jobs to work for the same pay as the current lot? Senior management salaries at City Hall are currently nowhere near the executive salary levels seen in the private sector. If you want the people, you have to pay the price.

  4. Hey. I'm a TAXPAYER. I want the highest quality of public services, but I am also completely unwilling to pay for them.

    I fail to see any contradiction in my stance.

  5. I don't think there was any mention that the people are unwilling to pay proper salaries for qualified workers.

    The complaint lies in the way City Hall goes about business. Take last year's 'record snowfall' for example. The City was scrambling and eventually settled on just dumping more money after the problem without anyone proactively looking at the problem (ie. the system of delivery, route decisions, times of operation), the end result is a larger budget but a problem that still exists.

    I am all for increasing the wages at City Hall (so long as Gutek and others who have proved themselves incompetent don't get it). Nowhere in the Mistress' post or the comments do I see anyone saying, don't increase the salaries.

    If upping the wages to bring in competent workers is the solution I am all for it, would be money better spent.

    But to TAXPAYER and Anon poster, yest please keep diverting from the problem, I mean throwing random accusations out there is a great way to have civilized discussion.

  6. TAXPAYER said...
    Hey. I'm a TAXPAYER. I want the highest quality of public services, but I am also completely unwilling to pay for them.

    I fail to see any contradiction in my stance.


    Ain't that the truth.

  7. My apologies. My comments were not intended to be random accusations. They are merely an observation of the regular (and not necessarily unwarranted) complaints about high taxes, project overruns, etc. that seem to be coincident with calls to oust people from their jobs at City Hall. It follows that those ousted would need to be replaced, and yours is the first comment I have seen that explicitly allows for the potential of higher wages to attract the appropriate talent. I must admit that I was making a supposition that most of those who would see civic staff ousted would also rather not see their replacements get big pay hikes. Maybe I was wrong in making that generalization, but I don't think so.

  8. I actually understand what the city's finance manager is getting at with the statement:

    "It has almost become expected that at the end of the year we're going to go into a spending freeze and that's not a good way to operate," http://www.thestarphoenix.com/City+projects+deficit/3726089/story.html#ixzz13UqRdgo7

    Every year at budget time, the "Brain Trust" of Council whittles away the City budget, proclaiming they are somehow miraculously able to find grand operating efficiencies.

    Of course, all they do is habitually shortchange areas like snow removal, knowing full-well the budget is completely inadequate. (Really, Atch may be an indisputable moron, but nobody is so stupid as to realistically think it's not going to snow.)

    When the wheels fall off the budget - as they always do - by shortchanging absolute necessities like snow removal, responsibility for backfilling these shortfalls shifts to city employees, who are forced to backfill this myopic political posturing by using both sides of their post-it notes and creating one-ply toilet paper out of two.

    Thus, Council magically allows their financial idiocy to almost serendipitously be downloaded onto city employees.

    We all deserve better than this, but TAXPAYER is right: The greater public needs to stop blindly lapping up and parroting idiotic and impossible-to-implement political messaging, and instead understand that facilitating the workings of a society is a multifarious and - quite frankly - costly proposition.

  9. Wow, Anon 1:18.....you just invest in your first dictionary?

    In any event, my opinion (as I suppose we are inclined to give on blogs such as this) is that the broad generalizations made by Anon, TAXPAYER and Ghostryder simply stagnate the process.

    When there are people, such as Anon 12:48, willing to articulate an idea the inevitable rhetoric comes back to 'well people like you never want to do this or that.' For example, look at how the original point of the entry (at least how I read it) has been skewed. The comments section has people debating about whether City employees deserve more money or not. About how 'people that call for new City employees' don't want to pay them.

    The whole point the Mistress seemed to be making is that there is no accountability at City Hall. This has nothing to do with money. I don't care if you are making $10k or a $100k, if it is taxpayers money you should be accountable for how it is being spent. The attitude of the current regime at City Hall is that there is no accountability. People who create budgets will not be held to task for them, even though it is public money they are spending. There has been absolutely no accountability for the construction fiasco this past season (other than the weather being the problem for all issues). There is no accountability on the Traffic bridge, either from those preparing reports or those relying on reports. There just seems to be no accountability. That is the big problem, how much people are being paid is irrelevant to the issue. There has to be accountability at all levels, whether it is summer workers or the Mayor.

    How can any entity, private or public, seriously expect to be taken seriously when a head of department has no accountability about money being spent under their watch? Or on whether they were fiscally responsible or not?

    Please don't make this a bigger issue than it is, it all comes back to the message City Hall continually sends out under the current regime: It doesn't matter if you mess up, we won't be evaluating you on your performance anyways.

  10. Thank you Anon 1:32 for getting the point of my commentary today. The annual freeze on spending is for discretionary spending, not essential. But its the attitude that concerns me more.

    Every budget cycle administration brings in a pie in the sky budget. Council assess the reaction of the public to the first proposed mill rate increase and keeps whittling away until they get to a tax increase the public will bear.

    Administration in its whittling tries to continue do everything in the initial budget for less money and consequently is never within the budget.

    I think a good administration should simply tell Council it must pick and choose what service or project is wants to cut in order to reduce or limit the mill rate.

    Quit fudging numbers and then looking for a half-assed excuse why the numbers don't add up.

  11. Although not all City employees can be cloaked under the same blanket. I think the problem lies in the fact there are 250,000 sets of eyes watching every step a small number of visible employees are taking. So when we see one slacker we view them all as slackers. And when we hear of one group mismanaging a budget we see all of them as being mismanaged.

    I have to agree with the Mistress that the continual front loading of budgets is getting tiresome. This is probably why the states have moved to so many bills for voting on spending. The public gets to choose once and for all if they want their tax dollar going to things such as pie in the sky civic building projects or the necessities of snow removal road repair and garbage collection.

    But if someone could come in and prepare a budget with 10% less tax dollars and provide the same level of service. (which isn't all that great anyways) I would gladly pay them a premium on their salary.

  12. The ultimate accountability lies with the voter/taxpayer

    Until we, collectively, start demanding better management by those we put in charge what else should we expect then what we already have.

    If the widely held belief is that there is no accountability in our civic administration on budgeting it’s time to start writing our elected officials and/or replacing our elected officials until we get a system that satisfies us.

    However, the general trend has been to play the same game each year - exactly as Mistress points out - where we are first given the shock of a high tax increase and then Council knocks a few tenths off that increase to make it seem like they are properly managing the public purse.

    Maybe instead of demanding better civil servants we should start demanding more from our elected leaders and, by extension, ourselves?

  13. It is time for citizens to step up to the plate and run for city council. We need new blood. I think councillors are getting too comfortable in their chairs. Thanks Mistress! They wages are pretty good too!

  14. Sean, it is not enough to sluff everything off as saying we should expect better from ourselves?

    We are talking about non-elected officials from the City talking about how there will be no accountability to department heads on their budgets. That going over budget will not be questioned....pardon?

    How can you honestly sit there and say well we need to be better ourselves. I applaud those, like the Mistress, who dedicate their time to public service. However, I should expect even a minimal level of accountability of my tax dollars without having to write letters, or run for council myself.

    I like a lot of what you say, but you always have this strain of 'this is how people ought to behave and we should give the benefit of doubt'. The real world doesn't work like that.

    At the least I would hope the person quoted in the paper was hauled into their boss' office and 'raked over the coals' about even saying something like that. My god, how are more people not upset about this.

  15. "I applaud those, like the Mistress, who dedicate their time to public service."


    If setting up a blog and bitching five days a week, save holidays, is public service, then we're sunk as a society.

  16. LOL Anon 7:58 - BINGO! The Mistresses, public service was done when the citizens of Saskatoon decided she was no good at it!

  17. Such bitter and hostile posters. I guess no one is a good public servant unless they share the same political views as you. No wonder your NDP is in the tank and dying a fast death. Losers.

    Regardless of political stripes, I respect anyone with enough passion to enter the public life hoping to make things better. Don't listen to the two NDP clowns above Mistress, while I didn't agree with all your views you were a solid trustee and coucilor

  18. "I didn't agree with all your views you were a solid trustee and coucilor "

    Apparently the citizens of Ward 6 thought otherwise...

  19. Anon 7:02pm

    What I had intended to get across was this:
    if the current admin/system in place is holding people to account, and that admin is ultimately the responsibility of Council - then we should be taking some responsibility for the system we have (as we elect Council).

    Maybe I was throwing to many degrees into my arguement, but I think the recent elections in T.O. and Calgary are good examples of what I was trying to convey - in those cases voters expressed a want to take back (I hope) control of the systems in those cities.

  20. The mistress has definately done her share of Saskatchewan politics. Shame on those blogging. Obviously they dont know the mistress and her history. Keep up the good work.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.