The Curious Midlander: 2018 Midland Budget Curiosities
Town Council had their first look at the 2018 budget on February 22nd and this document and related materials has raised more curiosities:
Midland Bay Landing Development Corporation
To register the Midland Bay Landing Development Corporation, there is a budget of $5,000 for legal fees and $750 for registration. The $750 fee is no doubt a fee required to be paid to the Province to register a Corporation. The $5,000 budget for legal fees is somewhat curious since the Town has its own lawyer on staff so we wonder why this person can’t handle the registration process instead of retaining outside legal consul at a cost of $5,000?
Due to cost overruns for the Town’s new Operations Complex, Council approved a staff recommendation to hire an outside firm to audit this project with a cost in the neighbourhood of $30,000. The staff report states “the oversight and management of this project changed throughout the course of the construction period and an independent review is warranted”.
Sounds a bit like “closing the barn doors after the horse has escaped”. Does the Town not have competent staff to handle this review internally? Why add this additional cost to the cost overrun? Why were there not adequate controls in place throughout this project to prevent the cost overrun?
SAVINGS BY SWITCHING POLICING TO OPP
Council and staff assured Midland taxpayers savings of approximately one million dollars per year for ten years by going with the OPP instead of keeping the Midland Police Services. We are curious how and when Council will issue a complete open and transparent financial report that will back up their claims? One recent staff report stated “ Finance staff continue to refine its estimates of the financial impact of disbandment. As Council is aware, there will be a number of refinements to the OPP transition and MPS disbandment costs that will not be fully determined and accounted for until some future date”. In a separate budget report , staff stated” Certain assumptions were made” and “there will be modifications required to both the MPS estimates as well as the OPP estimates”. Statements such as these do little to garner confidence in Council’s decision and previous financial reports. Just curious if the Town staff need new calculators? How did Council reach this decision based on inaccurate financial projections?
New Ambiguous Expense Forecasts
New budget estimates in 2018 include $83,136 for the Midland Bay Landing Development Corporation and $25,344 for the Midland Bay Landing Steering Committee. Just curious what this includes?
Municipal Payroll Curiosities
The 2018 budget estimates include a number of payroll related curiosities. The CAO payroll has an increase of $28,000 and another new estimate of $170,000 for “Organizational Transformation”. The Finance payroll has an increase of nearly $100,000 while the IT payroll has an increase of nearly $160,000. The Human Resources payroll has increased 6.4% and also has another $25,000 increase for “Corporate Capacity Building”. The Planning payroll increases 12.7% and the Building Department increases 6.4% and the Engineering Payroll increases 6.5%. Virtually all other Department payrolls have more reasonable increases of less than 2%. Just curious how and why these “empires” are being justified? The Police budget has a 9% increase while in Public Works, there are new budgets of $85,000 and $279,059 for the new Operations Complex.
Creative Accounting Practices With “Projected Savings”
In a Treasury staff report dated February 12, staff recommended “that the proposed use of the projected savings be approved in principle and be referred to the 2018 budget deliberations” (this is related to Policing costs). Based on a previous staff report, staff projected ten year savings of $9,163,687 in Policing costs. The report goes on the propose “allocating approximately 50% of the projected future savings towards an up front benefit of current taxpayers as contemplated by the noted resolution”. Just curious if the Town’s Auditors approved this allocation of “projected future savings”? Did the Audit Committee and Council approve this? Has this type of creative accounting ever taken place elsewhere?
Hiring Frenzy Despite Hiring Freeze?
The Midland taxpayers have been under the impression (delusion?) that Council has approved a policy for a hiring freeze on new staff positions? Just curious why this did not apply to the new Executive Assistant for the CAO and how the Clerks Department now has three staff instead of the previous two? Reliable sources have also told us the Town recently circulated internal job postings for another five new staff positions. These are all in the Finance and IT Departments with most in the area of +$90,000 for wages plus benefits. Perhaps this explains the huge increases in the 2018 budget for Finance and IT payrolls? The impact on these payroll budgets will be even more significant in 2019 and beyond when these new staff are in place for a full year and have annual wage increases and benefits. Who approved these new staff positions? Was a report ever presented in an open and public Council meeting?
Overworked Staff Something New?
We have seen recent comments from both Council members and the Midland Community group claiming staff are greatly overworked and are putting in overtime hours at night and on weekends. No doubt this is true however we are curious why this is such a concern now when we know staff in previous administrations also dedicated many hours of overtime at night and on weekends and neither Council nor the Midland Community group raised this as a priority concern in the past?
Good luck to Council and staff as they go through the 2018 budget motions. No doubt they will justify increases in the Midland portion of the tax bill which is offset by lower County and Education taxes. All we are asking of Council and staff is to be open and transparent in all matters instead of hiding behind half-truths and not providing all the facts to the Midland taxpayers.