It’s our Maple Ridge money you’re spending

Budget planning should mean starting from square one every year

Editor, The News:

Re: Ridge tax rate set to rise 3.9 per cent (The News, Dec. 5).

It is that time of year again – no, not Christmas, but municipal tax increase time.

That means, unequivocally, another annual tax increase.

Unlike municipal tax increases, death, thankfully, only occurs once in a lifetime.

Our mayor has his throw away lines to justify the annual tax increases: ‘Roads, services, infrastructure to be built or repaired. We must spend now or the cost will be much higher in the future.’

These are simply to divert the taxpayers and residents from focusing on the dysfunctional budgeting process used by the District of Maple Ridge and the resulting uninterrupted upward march of taxes and fees.

Yes, Mr. Mayor, segregating taxes into taxes, fees and levies is an old game that most of the residents and taxpayers see through. They are all money the district takes from our pockets.

This time last year I implored the district to adopt zero-based budgeting. So what is that?

In simple terms, it means starting with a clean sheet every year – no program or expenditure is sacrosanct.

Every program has to be evaluated to determine whether it is still required and adding value.

If the answer to both of these questions is yes, the follow up is to determine if the expenditures are being done responsibly, efficiently and effectively.

This is how successful businesses continue to be successful.

I am not suggesting a municipal government is run the same as a business, but I am saying a municipal government should have the same discipline about spending money as a successful business does.

In fact, the discipline and respect should be higher because you are spending someone else’s money.

Tax revenue is not your money – it is money that we, the taxpayers, entrust to you to use judiciously and responsibly. Unfortunately, this fact has been lost on far too many elected and staff members.

I understand that people can become attached to or even dependent upon ‘their’ programs or projects. This is natural, but it leads them, and often their managers, to stop looking at the program or project objectively and with scrutiny.

Rather they are focusing on finding ways to justify and maintain ‘their’ program. This is made easier when the annual budget directive is to keep the budget increase to ‘X’ per cent.

Few staff and managers are willing to volunteer that their program or project and maybe their job is no longer required or not providing value.

I submit, however, that it is mayor and council’s fundamental and first fiduciary responsibility to require their staff to thoroughly assess whether each and every program and project is required every year.

Further, this is the part of the process where the taxpayers and residents should be invited and encouraged to participate.

To leave public input and participation to try to review an already completed budget just days or hours before council is to approve the budget is completely disrespectful.

For the mayor to trumpet as a great achievement that the rate of increase in taxes in 2013 is less than the rate of increase shows that he and council either do not understand fiscal responsibility or they do not care that the district has a spending problem.

The spending problem is rampant. District staff and management have received salary increases every year when even other levels of government have had zero salary increases, private company employees have had zero increases or reductions, seniors, the disabled and others have lost ground.

Why do municipalities totally ignore the realities? The district keeps increasing taxes and spending. Some of the spending is truly mind numbing – giving grants to private developers, building sculptures, wage increases many times greater than anyone else and more.

Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain, the U.S. did not become financial basket cases because they exercised wise fiscal management. Rather, their governments and employees operated much like our district by having a total disregard for fiscal and financial reality.

Unfortunately, like those countries and others, it is the citizens who ultimately bear the consequence of the irresponsible decisions and actions of the elected officials and staff.

The annual budget process is like Christmas for the district. But the taxpayer won’t even be able to afford a lump of coal.

John Kelly

Maple Ridge

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