The spending rethink is already happening

(Councillor Jeff Earle speaks to city council earlier this month.)

When Councillor Jeff Earle called for a rethink of city hall spending in the shadow of the looming P&G closure, reaction to the idea was somewhat mixed.

Councillors will discuss the idea next week, but Mayor David Henderson, for one, wondered what the point of it might be, given that rethinking spending is what councillors do every year at budget time.

On Tuesday, however, some city councillors discussed putting Earle’s recommendation into practice anyway, without even realizing it.

Earle’s motion calls for "an immediate review of the 10-year capital plan and the operating plan."

It states that, “due to lower MPAC assessments, closing of major industry, reductions in sewer/water revenue and lack of source funding for current projects and/or their continued operation, the only prudent fiscal policy would be to halt all non-committed funding until such a review is completed.”

While something as formal as a spending review awaits discussion next week, the “non-committed spending” part was a critical point of debate at Tuesday’s finance, administration and operations committee meeting.

Henderson recently questioned the whole idea of “non-committed funding.”

Spending is spending, after all, and once you are spending the money it is committed.

But Earle defined “non-committed funding” as “projects that are on the board that we haven’t started yet.”

Consider that definition, then consider the recommendation,  which came before the finance committee, to stop putting money aside for a twin-pad arena in order to cover Brockville’s share of the Brockville General Hospital redevelopment project.

That’s the recommendation in a report to the finance committee by city corporate services director David Dick. The idea is to divert annual contributions to the arena reserve and the fiscal policy reserve, for the next four years, into a special reserve for the hospital expansion.

City council has already signed off on BGH’s request for $4,760,000, as Brockville’s share of the redevelopment project.

The plan would allow the city to contribute its share without incurring any further debt.

In recent years, council has been contributing annually to the two reserve funds, one created to prepare for a new arena project in the near future (most likely a twin-pad), while the other is a go-to reserve for emergencies and year-end deficits.

Council has increased that yearly allocation by $100,000 each year.

The corporate services director recommends continuing with those annual increases, but suggests council “reallocate the annual incremental appropriation to fiscal policy and the arena reserve to a special reserve for the hospital expansion.”

In other words, the city would stop funding a non-committed project and instead divert that money to a committed project.

(Those who have followed Earle long enough on council will have read his motion and seen the words “Twin-Pad” in flashing red behind “non-committed funding.”)

The idea did not get the necessary traction Tuesday to move forward. Clearly, there are council members, the mayor among them, who don't see the twin-pad project as something that should be put on hold.

Still, it looks like, far from presenting a clumsily worded and unnecessary motion on spending, Earle was tuned into the zeitgeist at city hall, post-P&G. 

Whether or not city council ultimately decides to put twin-pad funding on hold, the rethink of city spending is already underway.