Accountability and transparency; over used political buzz words and unachievable ideals in local government?
Both might be true. It does not have to be that way though.
A council needs to work towards a level of accountability through transparency. Big words that mean council should tell people what is going on, and ask for their opinions. Council then makes decisions based on what residents actually want. Residents deserve to know what is going on in their town.
Local government deals with a number of issues, but perhaps the most sensitive is the budget.
Barriere council holds a number of meetings around the budget. The public seldom if ever attends. To most people this part of government is boring.
How the money is actually spent is another matter. Everyone has an opinion, and so they should. The public needs to be informed and have a way to provide input throughout the year, not just at budget time.
In small towns like Barriere, the task of presenting day to day expenditures is quite easy. Deciding on a method should not be hard. It is after all public information and not secret.
Taking a look at how other councils achieve this task may help. No sense in reinventing the wheel. Ashcroft, for example, includes as an agenda item the Accounts Payable. Basically, the information shows council and the public what was paid out and who was paid. Any questions around this information would be dealt with during the council meeting.
My suggestion is not meant to cast doubt on the workings of the district. Staff works hard on keeping within the budgets set by council. It is, however, council’s responsibility to oversee the budget and keep current on what is happening. Also, the public has a right to this information.
Getting information from the district is much more preferable than getting it by way of the rumour mill.
Each service the district provides has a cost attached to providing it. By reviewing these costs each month throughout the year, council can give staff proper and timely direction.
This direction to staff should be based on the opinions of residents. Residents need the information around what services actually cost to form their opinions.
As an example, we are told our water system will cost a set amount of dollars each year based on what has happened in the past.
Knowing how the water budget is actually spent as we go along is the key. The information around the actual cost of each emergency water pipe repair will allow residents to make decisions based on facts. Then, when proactive upgrades are proposed by council, the public knows from past experience the true cost of emergency repairs and how these repairs add up to what are unnecessary expenses.
Business taxes rose dramatically last year. An increasing number of businesses have cut back on their sponsorships for some of the “nice to have” services. Some popular services or events will see even further reductions in business sponsorship as taxes rise. There are only so many dollars to go around.
The question is, does council use taxation dollars to provide the needed funding for such services?
If council uses tax dollars to support the service, what is the negative side of this decision?
Quite simply, the business sponsorship money dries up even more, and tax dollars carry the burden. It is not realistic to expect a business to pay ever increasing taxes and still shell out sponsorship money for a service being paid for with tax dollars.
Again, unless the public knows what the cost is to run these services, how can they make a decision on if they feel there is value in spending their tax dollars?
What happens if, upon review, the amount shown in the accounts payable for a popular weekly event is actually upwards of twice the budgeted amount?
Who would then tell council they need to decide if taxes really should finance it?
Going forward, some hard decisions need to be made and it is time to, as they say, face the music. Best to gather public opinion and let the people decide how to spend their own money. That would be democracy.