More than 100 Red Deerians provided input at the City’s annual budget open house which took place earlier this week.
City departments had booths where citizens could provide feedback and ask questions.
“There was strong representation from the finance department and citizens had the opportunity to go through an exercise and place priority on where they would prefer to see their tax investments made,” said Mayor Tara Veer. “We also had a strong booth on the capital plan as council.
“We also covered off the full spectrum on our departments and staff were on hand to answer any questions that citizens may have had.”
In terms of concerns and positive feedback, Veer said she heard a mixture of things at the budget open house.
“The people who attended came because of an interest in capital projects and others came in there interested more in operations,” said Veer. “With respect to operations, probably what we heard was some commentary on what they thought was working well and what was improving, but also some discussion around key areas of priorities. What I heard was very consistent with previous engagement that we had with the public at Let’s Talk and the statistically significant survey around community safety and transportation pressures.
“Often at the budget open house we can really get a sense of the economic climate that our community is faced with. Different years will often have a different theme to it. This year there were people who came out wanting to see various projects go forward and were willing to fund those, but there was also a strong sentiment around concerns that generally City tax rates go up by a cost of living every year and people’s household incomes doesn’t increase to match that.”
City staff have already started work on the 2016 capital and operating budgets.
“Once we adopt the 2015 tax rate bylaw which we did in late April and early May, essentially that sends tax notices to our citizens for the 2015 year – literally staff begin building the budget for the 2016 year because it is such a thorough process,” said Veer. “Council adopted general budget guidelines at the end of April which is an important foundation for administration to have at least preliminary cues from council to start building the 2016 budget.
“From there the budget open house is another critical component of the budget process. It’s imperative that we engage with the public on the front end in order to ensure that the budget that is ultimately prepared and tabled is responsive to the needs of Red Deerians.”
The information gathered at the budget open house will be synthesized and will become part of the overall feedback for the budget. When the capital and operating budgets are tabled, council will see the feedback from the budget open house and other public forums.
“When making decisions, council will hopefully be making decisions that are responsive to the needs of the community.”
Veer added events like the budget open house are important for the City to have to allow for engagement with Red Deerians.
“This City council has been strongly committed to community engagement – so much so that we have identified it as one of our themes in our strategic direction. The budget open house is one of many open houses that we have throughout the year, but it is absolutely imperative that we provide forums for our public to share their areas of interest and concern and ideas with council and City staff,” she said.
“We recognize that people’s time is at a premium so we have tried to be responsive to that in engaging with our citizens through social media, through online tools and offering a more traditional open house which allows people to drop in for 15 minutes or to come and stay for the duration of the evening.”