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Editorial: Council has tough budget year ahead

Zero per cent increase on operating side obvious Council goal
YORKTON - At Monday’s regular meeting of Yorkton Council, the lion’s share of the open portion of the meeting was spent discussing a motion by Councillor Chris Wyatt on what the 2022 budget should look like. 

Wyatt’s motion would have set the 2022 budget at a zero per cent increase on the operating side with a one per cent increase to capital spending. 

While the motion would be withdrawn, an alternate one offered, and it defeated (see story page A1), the discussion was both interesting and a worthwhile exercise albeit an exercise which could have been taken without the need of a motion to spur it. 

It is important Council provide City administration with a rather clearly defined goal for a budget, and it has to help the internal processes of creating the initial document to have that goal as early as possible. 

From the discussion Monday it is rather clear the majority on Council have little interest in seeing an increase in spending on the operations side of things. 

There does appear to be some rather big barriers to achieving that goal in 2022 however.  

It was made public Monday that the City is likely facing an additional $1.6 million in RCMP costs for the year, some $600,000 of that to be ongoing additional costs, as a result of a new contract having been negotiated at the federal level. 

There was also a suggestion of additional equipment costs arising from the new contract too. 

Those costs come in a year where the grant from the province based on sales tax revenue is going to decline some $160,000. 

Suddenly achieving a zero per cent increase on the operating side will be a challenge. 

“You will have to cut services to get to zero,” suggested City Manager Lonnie Kaal.  

Now there is nothing wrong with cutting services or programs. The taxpayer cannot face increases year-after-year-after-year, so the alternative is to trim things. Initially, it can be a nip here and a snip there, trimming the fat as they say. But in time you have a lean system and then deeper cuts are required. 

Making up a roughly $1.75 million in 2022 is likely going to require a deeper cut. 

When it comes to what program or service might go, that has to be a decision of Council, not one by Administration. Administration might offer some suggestions based on alternate ideas or low program usage numbers, but in the end Council needs to handle the final cut. 

And, it should be done in open Council so the public can be aware of exactly what the thinking of each Councillor was, because in the end not everyone will agree with what might get cut, but they should at least understand the reasoning and process. 

One thing is clear, the next budget will be a tight one, and if Council sticks to the zero per cent, and that appears more than likely, they will have some tough choices to make in the months ahead.