Budget meeting just the beginning of the process

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
November 26th, 2009

The voice of the public was heard at Grand Forks city hall in the first meeting to discuss upcoming budgets. On Monday, Nov. 23 city council invited residents to help them prioritize finances for their upcoming plan.

Councillor Thompson and Mayor Taylor presented a slideshow outlining current services, activities, expenses and revenues. Based on their current projections, there will be a $270,000 deficit that they will need to address. The deficit comes from the loss of industrial taxation since the closure of Canpar in 2007. In addition to the current expense levels, council will need to address the long-term infrastructure plan that identifies $36 million in required repairs to be completed over 15 years. Some of the priorities council sees include: construction costs on the library building, grant in aid policy funding, matching funding for the trails development, and economic development initiatives. The entire council was present for the meeting except Councillors Wirischagin and Davies.

Residents were clear in their message that council should keep the alternate transportation system (trails), Phoenix ski hill, air quality initiatives, and small business supports / economic development at the top of their list.

“As a person who has supported Phoenix over the years, I thank you for the grants you have offered in the past years, and encourage you to continue to do that,” said Martin Gidney, a school teacher in Grand Forks. “Our school programs use the hill extensively. It introduces a new healthy sport to those kids. I hope you continue to support the hill as you have done. $9,000 seems like a large amount but compared to the overall budget and the benefits that we see through Phoenix Mountain’s use I don’t think you can put a dollar value on that.”

Questions were raised about the decision to provide in-house garbage services, develop a sister-city relationship in China, and the high level of taxation on small businesses in the area.

“We have crunched a business plan for (the garbage services). It’s built to accommodate seniors, to make it easier. Having it in-house means that it will not be a profit motive, but a service motive. So we’re hoping there will be a high level of satisfaction with it,” said Taylor in response to concerns about the switch in services.

While suggestions for water metering of residences, a co-op car program and decreases for commercial property taxation were made, other discussions debated the size of the city’s management team and services that benefit the regional area but are paid for through the city. City manager Victor Kumar also suggested that the city needs to ensure the regional areas that access these local services such as the art gallery, museum, Phoenix ski hill, city parks and playfields also kick in some finances to their operation.

“The balance has to be: there is a city that is centrally located and has benefits. There are also residents outside. You cannot expect the City of Grand Forks taxpayers to pick up something that benefits the community,” said Kumar. “There are certain things that have to be paid by community, and there are certain things the city will pay. But for many services they are benefiting the region. That’s the way the dialogue should be focusing.”

Council will be using the information they received at the meeting to help make decisions for their budget. They will be presenting the actual financial plan at a public meeting in January.

Categories: Politics