Few attend fourth budget meeting

The city’s fourth public budget meeting ended in frustration for some Wednesday evening.

The city’s fourth public budget meeting ended in frustration for some Wednesday evening, with less than half the agenda completed and no decisions finalized.

Four members of the public attended the meeting; however, by the end of the evening only two had remained until the meeting was adjourned.

Some of the councillors expressed concern that council was going through the budget “line by line,” while others insisted it was the only way to deal with the budget.

“I have a hard time picking apart everything. I appreciate going through line by line, but I think we have to go on a certain amount of faith that it’s required. Everything we’re asking about, we keep getting the same answer that we need it and that’s why it’s on the list,” said Coun. Geoff Bourdon minutes into the discussion, adding he thinks council’s role is to give overall direction on the budget.

Mayor Kerry Cook replied that council had given overall direction previously, but that other council members wanted the opportunity to go through the budget item by item and ask questions.

Coun. Sue Zacharias echoed Bourdon, saying council had all the requests in front of it back at the end of January.

“We read them back then, that 120-page document. We had an opportunity and we asked a lot questions and I remember asking those same questions. I don’t think we can get through this and go through every single thing asking the same questions over and over,” Zacharais said.

Cook disagreed, saying council had not had a chance to go through the capital budgets.

“We had the information, but we haven’t had the opportunity to have the discussion,” Cook said, adding at every meeting council has been asking when members would go through it and circle items for approval.

It’s a transition year where council is trying to make the budget process more public and to address policy concerns around the budget process, Cook added.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, Tolko Cariboo Regional Woodlands manager Tom Hoffman offered some feedback.

“I sense the frustration, but I see a lack of leadership,” Hoffman said, adding he liked when councillors asked questions of staff about certain items.

By way of example, when he heard Coun. Laurie Walters ask if the city needed to purchase a skag mower or if it could rent one, or when Zacharias asked the same about a stump grinder, he heard staff reply they are used at certain times of the year.

“If, for example, you said no we want to start a small business this year and employ some First Nations in our region, and then ask them if they are interested in purchasing a skag mower or a stump grinder, or talk to Tolko or West Fraser or any of the engineering firms and ask if we could use your plotters. And you know what? We’re there,” Hoffman told council, adding those examples would do a lot for the city to be more business friendly.

Rather than going line by line, Hoffman suggested council’s role is to state its objectives for the budget around increases and decreases and task staff to look at doing things differently.

Pointing to examples in Quesnel and Prince George, Hoffman said Williams Lake has been out-manouervered: Quesnel, through its support behind a proposed First Nations Power Project, and in Prince George, where an idle sawmill is becoming a training centre.

Elke Reiner questioned the validity of paying $20,000 for a dog park, and suggested that dog license fees need to be increased.

She estimated fewer than 250 dog licenses are being purchased annually and said she doesn’t think that’s a high enough proportion of the population to warrant the city spending $20,000 on the park.