A new way of doing budget in Petrolia

Richard Poore explains the community centre budget Thursday during the Petrolia Council's first public view of the budget.

Petrolia’s treasurer says it is one of the most important strategic documents councillors make.

So this year, when Rick Charlebois outlined the budget staff has been working on since September, he took a strategic view. “We’re trying to make it less a bunch of number and more strategic,” he says.

Traditionally, councillors are given the full budget document to review. Some municipalities go through each line to so councillors have a firm grasp on the numbers. Others provide summaries with the full budget and staff answers questions on each department.

This year, staff streamlined the process, showing councillors how much each department would spend compared to last year and highlighting verbally any changes being made.

Councillors did see the full budget for water, sewer and Victoria Playhouse Petrolia. Those departments do not require tax dollars but run on the revenue generated by either water, sewer rates or ticket prices.

Staff told council if they wished to see the full budget document, it is available.

Mayor John McCharles likes the strategic budget session saying in the past councillors have “micromanaged” the budget, talking about making small cuts to save money. “I don’t believe in micromanagement,” he says. “As far as day-to-day operations, I don’t thing there is a lot we can do with that. Sure there are things you could nickel and dime…but that’s not a good way of management…what you do is normally end up with a deficit…I’d rather have a surplus at the end of the year.

McCharles added each councillor has the option of seeing the full budget document. “It’s wide open to them if they want to see the line-by-line budget,” he says. “This is a better method of budgeting.

“I’ve seen enough detail..If I can’t trust my staff to do their job then we should be looking for different staff…I think our management team is doing a good job.”

Councillor Ross O’Hara agrees. He hasn’t asked for the detailed budget either. “Our job is to know what’s in the budget but we have to have some trust in our administration to spend money wisely,” he says.

O’Hara adds he doesn’t know “exactly where every dollar is going” and that the five per cent increase in municipal funding is “high.”

Councillors Joel Field, Tim Brown and Mary Pat Gleeson also appreciated the strategic view adding they felt they had the information they needed to make an informed decision on the budget.

Brown says the format was much easier to understand. “Every year went through those (full budget documents) you’d have read a week in advance,” he says adding there “areas we definitely thing we can do better and other areas I think we rock – like grants.”

“Our staff, our directors have always made it easy for us to ask questions if there are issues we have,” says Gleeson.

Field agreed saying he went to town hall before the budget meeting to have his questions answered. “I asked my point-blank question and had them answered. Every councillor had the right to ask those questions. I trust staff …and I had every ample opportunity to ask questions.”

Councillors did not suggest any changes to the budget which increases municipal spending by five per cent.