Citizen criticizes financial management at city hall | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Citizen criticizes financial management at city hall

Silence was broken when a citizen took to the speaker's mic in council chambers. (Coun. Patrick Nicol and Mayor Rob Sawatzky are pictured in the background.)
January 19, 2013 - 9:00 AM

A local business owner broke the silence at a public input session of the city's budget discussion Friday, attacking the rising wages at City Hall. 

Mark Budgen runs Monashee Surveying and Geomatics and has lived in Vernon since 1974. "I've been here through the good times and the bad," he said.

Based on his long-time residency and place in the business world of Vernon, Budgen said he was as good a person as any to comment on the city's economic climate.

"From where I'm sitting, it doesn't look good," he said.

He's witnessed countless people pack up and head to the northern regions of B.C. where jobs are more plentiful and lucrative, he said. He says clients told him they would never develop again in Vernon.

"Local government must do its best to create investments and well paying jobs," he said, noting too much emphasis has been placed on the provincial government to address those matters.

The problem, as Budgen described, is not solely a lack of community investment, but a disproportionate distribution of cash. He argued the city is allotting too much money for internal expenses, particularly for staffing. He noted a 41 per cent increase in wages since 2006.

"That's unsustainable," he said. "To put it bluntly, the city is overstaffed."

Councillors listened intently as Budgen cited statistics on wage increases from the city's own website.

The draft management plan currently under debate by council has been described by city staff as one of restraint. Indeed, the plan dictates a limit on operating growth which ultimately demands cut-backs on services, projects, and potentially on staffing. Council has not spoken of any reductions to city staff, but the RCMP are bracing for a potential loss of two foot patrols to meet the financial reduction targets. As conservative as the plan may be to spending, Budgen believes it is not enough.

"Implementation of a truly austere budget may not be appealing, but it is necessary," he said.

Council has agreed on a 1.9 per cent cumulative tax increase to finance infrastructure repair on an ongoing basis. Budgen had an issue with that.

"You cannot constantly turn to the taxpayer every time you run dry," he said.

Budgen was urged to attend a public input session Jan. 29 at the Vernon Rec Centre from 6 to 9 p.m. run by KPMG, the firm reviewing the city's core services.

—Charlotte Helston

News from © iNFOnews, 2013

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