Warp-speed budget, answers are slow

Last night, I tweeted this in jest, but it was a jest with a core of truth to it: "Believe it or not, this #CanadianFlag song is longer than the #BrockvilleCouncil #budget debate."

For those of you who didn't catch the live cable broadcast, Mayor David Henderson caught city clerk Sandra MacDonald off-guard early in the regular council meeting when he asked her to play the new Canadian flag song and video on the overhead. Her laptop was not properly set up and the audio did not broadcast.

Fast-forward through council's fast-forward approval of the 2015 budget, and all of a sudden the sound did come on, near the end of the short meeting.

I have no doubt that, combined with corporate services director David Dick's budget presentation, the actual budget discussion did take a bit longer than the flag song.

What I should have tweeted was the song ran longer – by a wide margin – than the budget debate, which was nonexistent.

Funny, that.

I do not think our city leaders were rushing to get one of the year's most important documents out of the way because they were eager for one more crack at the flag song.

Nor was there any other pressing business on the agenda that needed prompt and urgent attention.

Sure, councillors were tired after spending months hashing out this budget. But much longer and more laborious budget processes in the past were always capped with discussion, even if only in the form of speeches and spin.

The Habs were playing last night, but I am convinced this, too, was not the cause of our councillors' cross-ice rush.

To be generous here, I do not think they were speeding in order to railroad a tax increase.

Council promised us it wouldn't raise the levy by more than 2.75 per cent, and by adding in the $200,000 to the fiscal policy reserve it was still keeping that promise.

And the top-up itself can be justified. It can be questioned, but it can be justified.

What, then, explains council's jump to warp speed and silent running in passing the budget?

If the last-minute top-up of reserves is the only new feature of this final vote, then suspicion immediately falls to it.

So here is a working theory: council kicked in the warp drive because the top-up would have invited discussion of the reasons behind it, and no one at the council table wanted to have that discussion last night.

To bring you up to speed, here is how those reasons are presented in Dick's report to council, in the form of possible cost spikes: ““Some of these items include costs associated with joint services, write-off of taxes, vacancy rebates, short-term cost of borrowing, winter maintenance, fuel prices, increase in operating costs for the Aquatarium, and electricity charges, among many other estimates.”

Wait wait wait... back up a minute. What was that next-to-last one again?

Oh, “increase in operating costs for the Aquatarium.”


As the father of one teenager and two others in the making, I am bracing myself for these kinds of sitcom-tested lists: “Hi Dad, I got an A in math, an A+ in religious studies, I scratched the car and oh yes I shovelled the walkway for you...”

Buried leads don't get far with a reporter. We all do it once, early in our career, only to have the concept seared in our brains forever.

There has been talk, speculation and doomsaying about increased costs to the Aquatarium, and anyone with even a passing knowledge of the state of the project cannot but expect there to be financial challenges.

But until now, city and Aquatarium officials have been quick to deny any of those extra costs would be passed on to the city taxpayer.

My most recent question on the subject, to the corporate services director earlier this week, was met with an implicit promise of more information to come when it materializes.

I am making more calls on this today.

The public really otter know.

Besides, I might be wrong and discover it was the Habs game after all.