Monday Yorkton Council put its final stamp of approval on our city’s 2021 Capital and Operating Budgets.
The documents were unchanged from when they first came into public view at the regular meeting of Council March 15, the highlight being that the budgets hold the line in terms of overall spending, with a zero per cent increase.
That the City achieved zero per cent shouldn’t come as a surprise. As Councillor Chris Wyatt noted Monday, he and others on Council, Mayor Mitch Hippsley included, ran in the most recent municipal election with a zero per cent increase key planks in their platform, adding those with differing views didn’t get the votes to be on Council.
That might be over simplifying the desires of voters of course.
As Coun. Darcy Zaharia pointed out he didn’t specifically run with zero per cent as a goal, and he was returned.
But, the citizens of Yorkton are clearly OK with the budget as presented, again not surprisingly. If taxpayers are offered an option to not pay more taxes, they are generally going to smile and agree without delving into the details much farther than the great big zero per cent increase.
That is certainly the case here.
Ashley Stradeski – Director of Finance, with the City, noted Monday that the two budget documents were posted to the City’s website, as well as advertised on social media platforms and Yorkton This Week starting the morning of March 16. As of the date of the report, there were no written points of feedback received regarding the budget. There have also been no phone calls to the Finance office, no emails, or no other submissions from the general public at large.
One can call the lack of feedback overwhelming support for the budgets, or take a more cynical view and recall that Councillors were elected in the most recent vote with rather scant interest in even that process.
When Yorkton Council Jessica Matsalla, Returning Officer for The City of Yorkton presented the official results of the election after the vote, she said using 2019 Saskatchewan Health numbers it was estimated there were 15,000 eligible voters in the city. There were 3,976 ballots cast this year, or 26.5 per cent of those eligible.
That means that sitting Councillors attracted about one in 10 eligible voters to mark their ballots for them, so what the average Yorktonite supports is a tad hard to determine.
What is clear is this budget process was a long one, veteran Randy Goulden noting it was the longest of her career on Council.
But, the public, if they were paying attention, wouldn’t exactly have known how long, as the discussion of what to do was almost exclusively behind closed doors with the TV cameras off and the media and public not present.
While Hippsley said Monday it was a “tedious process with everybody fully engaged” the public doesn’t know what that engagement looked like.
What projects were championed by who? Were more service cuts even discussed? Did anyone call for a tax increase? If so what was their rationale?
Perhaps in the end the lack of public feedback Stradeski noted was fuelled by a lack of information to ask questions on. Few are going to delve into a budget document line-by-line but they might listen to the debate in Council, or read about it after and then formulate questions.
The word ‘transparency’ has been another word used by candidates for Council the last couple of elections, and just maybe a bit more of that should have been used getting to zero.
Even if everyone is happy with the end result a broader view of the process would still have been wise.