Well, at least the last of the 2016 budget meetings was mildly entertaining at times. As theater though, it had a weak beginning but then it built with a steady crescendo until right up to the final anticlimactic finale.
First they sat studying the capital projects, with just a few questions. Then Councillor Handley brought up the sidewalk work to once again tell the City that the contractors weren’t doing it right. “50% is probably not up to standard. We could do it ourselves.” After he promised further photos and information in the future, Council moved along without discussion.
Mayor Luciani, who last year put his unwanted raise toward staff training, had a new request for this year. This year he asked Council to put his excess toward starting up a Thorold Fund in the Niagara Community Foundation, which gives grants to community organizations. His thought was that, in future, the City might put community grant money into the fund and let them deal with the headaches.
Councillor Ugulini made a motion to hire a certain former staffer to manage the Arena and Public Works facility projects, saying he didn’t have the confidence to vote for the money without it. This led to an increasingly peevish discussion over who had the right to do specific hiring, Council or senior staff. CEO Fabiano maintained that specific hiring is an operational decision outside of Council’s authority. Councillor Handley, on the other hand, claimed that the Municipal Act gives Council the right to override that authority.
I’m not sure about the Municipal Act (I think only lawyers and a judge could sort that out), but even if he’s right, I believe Council effectively gave it up when they passed the Code of Conduct for Council which clearly outlines the jurisdictions of each. In the end, they voted to hire a project manager, something that is definitely in their jurisdiction to do.
There was a break in the action when a presentation was made to Council by two members of the Brock Student Union. Smoothly and with political smarts, they first stroked Council for their help in the past and then asked that the lighting (and maybe pathway) project on Decew Rd. be made a priority item. Then Councillor Whelan asked what they (the presenters) could do about students who park in the downtown lower lot and leave their cars while taking the bus to school. Suddenly the discussion became about Thorold’s downtown parking problem, to the bewilderment of a couple of Councillors (and probably the student reps, although they were professional enough not to show it).
At the end, the Mayor made the safety matter a quid pro quo, whereby Council would prioritize the work if the Brock reps would attend parking committee meetings and help with their problem. Naturally the students agreed.
Turning their attention back to the budget, Council started the review of the things that had been added to the budget over the previous five meetings. I was out of the room so I didn’t see who made the motion, but someone wanted to remove the endlessly-discussed hiring of an IT Manager, something that’s been put off for years, in order to lower the tax increase.
Councillor Paone defended the hire by pointing out that it could save the money through efficiencies and that, with the overall tax hit so low, they should take advantage of the opportunity to do some necessary things. Councillor Handley agreed that now was the time, commenting that the increase isn’t a lot of money and they’ve done more than any Council in years.
Councillor Charron also agreed with the measure, suggesting that senior staff shouldn’t be wasting a lot of time doing IT work. “Let’s allow the staff to do their job,” he said. Councillor Longo agreed, adding, “We’re tackling some big jobs that have to be done.”
Councillor Ugulini then made a speech to cut the IT Manager because he couldn’t to live with the increase, a sentiment echoed by the Mayor. Well, that set things off.
Councillor Longo countered that, if Councillor Ugulini wanted to save the money, maybe they should defer the Arenas work for a year. Councillor Ugulini lost it and quite loudly gave Council what-for, since they had all agreed that the Arenas should be first on the capital priority list and now they wanted to change it. He also commented that maybe they should put off the Public Works Centre again instead. Councillor Long replied that he had never agreed with the Arenas first policy but that he felt they needed to do all these things.
Tiring of the argument, Mayor Luciani called a vote on the budget as a whole as it stood, at 5.18% for the Thorold portion and 1.48% for Thorold/Region/Education combined, making for a $47.88 increase for 2016 on an average house assessed at $219,000. The recorded vote, in favour of the budget, was as follows:
Paone – Yes; Charron – Yes Handley – Yes Longo – Yes Whelan – Yes
Ugulini – No