Note: This article was originally published in The Overcast.
The budget just laid down by our provincial government is cause for serious concern. Like all of us, I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means, and my heart goes out to my friends, family, and neighbours as we wrap our minds around how our lives will change.
But while I grapple with a deep sense of disappointment at such a provincial fall from grace, the most powerful feeling I have in reaction to this budget is one of conviction.
I’m convinced that City Hall, and the council on which I sit, have a very real ability to be leaders that help guide us through these difficult times.
There are a number of things we can do, and this is my call to action.
First and foremost, we have to reduce the city’s tax burden on residents and businesses. While this will be harder thanks to the budget’s hit to the City’s finances, we have started the complex task of a full “program review” at City Hall.
It’s a one- to two-year-long process, with changes being made all along the way, that will force city managers to think critically about how we can be more efficient, creative, and cost-effective.
It will be tough, but we’ll have to seriously look at reducing the number of people we employ and cancelling employee salary increases. This will impact hundreds of families, as well as the morale of individuals who work hard on our behalf, so cuts will have to be implemented with care and compassion.
As we go through the review, our top two questions should be: “how does this program help residents,” and “how does this program contribute to the economy?”
The answers won’t be simple. For example, while some people argue it’s not an essential service, Metrobus should not be cut because people will need alternatives to their cars due to higher insurance rates and expensive gas. And for those without cars, it is an essential service.
We also should remember that when anyone in our community goes through a tough time, we all suffer. That’s why it’s critical that the City continue with its affordable housing initiatives, efforts to end homelessness, and supports for seniors, newcomers, and youth.
We are all going to have less spending money now, which will put a major strain on the businesses that drive our economy and provide us with our incomes. That’s why the City should create and vigorously implement a pro-local business strategy.
Startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses create jobs, attract newcomers and tourists, and produce innovative solutions to make people’s lives better. Our focus should be on helping businesses “make a go of it” by reducing red tape, simplifying processes, and making reasonable allowances wherever possible.
This should be a cross-organizational effort; approvals for simple things like new signs for your business or routine inspections on renovations should be quick and helpful. A local businessperson also suggested to me that we look into creative tax incentives for small businesses and prioritize locals for City purchases.
It would also be smart to give particular attention to the sectors that have the most impact on our economy. Those, in my opinion, include the arts, information technology, food, and tourism. These sectors represent things we are good at, and they draw visitors and investors. In other words, they bring desperately needed outside dollars into our economy.
We have a lot to be proud of and a lot to be excited about, but it’s going to be a difficult time. We have to come together as a community more than we ever have before. We have to be creative and encourage each other to work hard and be optimistic.
The City has a role to play, and I’m ready for action.
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