One of the challenges with the municipal budget every year is that the City delivers so many services. Several years ago, it tallied up to over 175 discreet services (we will be doing that exercise again this term but this time for the purpose of identifying key performance indicators).
So how do you tell the story behind the budget numbers for each of these services during the budget process? You don’t. You can’t. There isn’t enough time (although the introduction of performance reporting into our budget document will certainly help).
These stories are told throughout the year and feed into the budget cycle. Unfortunately, many of these stories are forgotten.
For instance, I am reading that transit service will go down in 2011. We are forgetting that the implementation of the Transit Growth Strategy will significantly increase the level of service for riders in 2011 (more on this in a future post). That strategy was approved by Council only a few months ago and was the result of an extensive public consultation process.
This situation also makes the first budget of a term especially difficult for new members of Council who, generally speaking, have not been part of the story, through no fault of their own.
For instance, on the surface, one might question why we budget for water-efficient toilet rebates. Once you unpack the story behind this budget line, you learn that the primary driver for water conservation rebates is a financial model developed to reduce the cost of providing a safe and adequate water supply to our community. The environmental aspects of water conservation and efficiency are important co-benefits.
Once the budget is released, certain issues emerge as a particular interest and concern to the community. These are the stories that we need to retell over the next few weeks so we understand the facts and the rationale for the service (i.e. why the City does what it does) so we can have a fruitful discussion of the community values that must also be an important part of the story and the decision making.
This is one of the advantages of unfolding the budget process over a month – to allow time for those stories to told and to understand what is important to our community.