The Blue Budget Process

Getting our budget process in front of kids is a lot of fun, and the kids constantly surprise me by being very fiscally conservative. Last year when I was invited into a grade two class, I thought there might be nothing more boring than hearing me talk about local government, so I spontaneously brought along seven jars and a big a pitcher of blue water.

I coax the kids through conversation to identify services they think we simply must do; water, roads, sewer infrastructure, buildings, parks, trails and fire protection. Then we often scratch our heads at the last jar – the fun jar.

The kids are surprised to learn that the requests we get most frequently is to add money to the fun jar, in fact not a week goes by without a request from the community to add to the ‘fun jar.’

Through conversation, we talk about contributing to reserve funds and trying to reduce the 67-million-dollar infrastructure deficit (Asset Management Investment Plan 2018, Urban Systems) that faces the City of Fernie. I ask them if their parents would take them on vacation to Hawaii when the roof on their house is leaking, and it is no surprise that a classroom full of grade two’s will top up their contribution to the Road fund and the Sewer fund to ensure an adequate maintenance schedule.

In fact, this last group of kids left themselves almost no money in the ‘fun jar’ and with a sigh and a shrug of their shoulders said they will just have to save up for a few more budget cycles to get the fun jar topped up so they could buy something fantastic for Fernie.

Today’s reality is that the cost to deliver existing services continues to rise, the external costs we face much like in your businesses and homes also continue to rise. The costs of hydro, fuel, insurance, permits and licensing.

One of Council’s priorities will be evaluating service levels. Local governments across the country are faced with the challenge of meeting increasing service level expectations from their communities.

What do people really expect in terms of street cleaning, are they willing to pay for the increased costs associated with an increase in service? Which services should be delivered more efficiently, which services could be reduced? All of these questions lay within a healthy asset management plan and incorporating service level reviews into our long-term financial plan and understanding the cost implications of the lifecycle of the service will help Council make better decisions.

Keeping Fernie in a place of financial stewardship means that Council needs to ensure there is an adequate amount of funds in the budget for the delivery of services, adequate funds to contribute to a healthy maintenance schedule of all of the services we provide and that we continue to contribute to the reserves for maintenance and infrastructure replacement.

We have done our blue budget process so far this year several times with school-age children, and if that is any indication of the future, I can assure you on our horizon is a group of kids that understand sustainable decisions.