Budget Fallout: The City Has a Role To Play

Dave Lane is touting the city's need to "create and vigorously implement a pro-local business strategy" in the wake of the provincial budget.

The budget just laid down by our provincial government is cause for serious concern. Like all of us, I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means, and my heart goes out to my friends, family, and neighbours as we wrap our minds around how our lives will change

But while I grapple with a deep sense of disappointment at such a provincial fall from grace, the most powerful feeling I have in reaction to this budget is one of conviction.

I’m convinced that City Hall, and the council on which I sit, have a very real ability to be leaders that help guide us through these difficult times.

There are a number of things we can do, and this is my call to action.

First and foremost, we have to reduce the city’s tax burden on residents and businesses. While this will be harder thanks to the budget’s hit to the City’s finances, we have started the complex task of a full “program review” at City Hall.

It’s a one- to two-year-long process, with changes being made all along the way, that will force city managers to think critically about how we can be more efficient, creative, and cost-effective.

It will be tough, but we’ll have to seriously look at reducing the number of people we employ and cancelling employee salary increases. This will impact hundreds of families, as well as the morale of individuals who work hard on our behalf, so cuts will have to be implemented with care and compassion.

As we go through the review, our top two questions should be: “how does this program help residents,” and “how does this program contribute to the economy?”

The answers won’t be simple. For example, while some people argue it’s not an essential service, Metrobus should not be cut because people will need alternatives to their cars due to higher insurance rates and expensive gas. And for those without cars, it is an essential service.

We also should remember that when anyone in our community goes through a tough time, we all suffer. That’s why it’s critical that the City continue with its affordable housing initiatives, efforts to end homelessness, and supports for seniors, newcomers, and youth.

We are all going to have less spending money now, which will put a major strain on the businesses that drive our economy and provide us with our incomes. That’s why the City should create and vigorously implement a pro-local business strategy.

We are all going to have less spending money now, which will put a major strain on the businesses that drive our economy and provide us with our incomes. That’s why the City should create and vigorously implement a pro-local business strategy.

Startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses create jobs, attract newcomers and tourists, and produce innovative solutions to make people’s lives better. Our focus should be on helping businesses “make a go of it” by reducing red tape, simplifying processes, and making reasonable allowances wherever possible.

This should be a cross-organizational effort; approvals for simple things like new signs for your business or routine inspections on renovations should be quick and helpful. A local businessperson also suggested to me that we look into creative tax incentives for small businesses and prioritize locals for City purchases.

It would also be smart to give particular attention to the sectors that have the most impact on our economy. Those, in my opinion, include the arts, information technology, food, and tourism. These sectors represent things we are good at, and they draw visitors and investors. In other words, they bring desperately needed outside dollars into our economy.

We have a lot to be proud of and a lot to be excited about, but it’s going to be a difficult time. We have to come together as a community more than we ever have before. We have to be creative and encourage each other to work hard and be optimistic.

The City has a role to play, and I’m ready for action.

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  • Speaking of Metrobus, you can make cuts without impacting services. Calgary uses smaller buses on routes during non-peak times or few lower demand routes in general. Think Go-Bus style buses. This reduces operating expenses for those 2 people on the route 3 bus at 10 PM.

    On the other side of it, and I am not suggesting this part, they have a different pay rate for those drivers.

  • As an entrepreneur, small businesses owner and operator in St. John’s, I can make the following comments:
    1 – There is absolutely no reason for the City to charge a business tax when the City does not provide any services to businesses in return. We pay for garbage collection. we pay more for water. We are charged interest rates on late taxes that compare to the highest credit card rates. All of that for getting absolutely nothing.
    2 – All the policies at the City are aimed at satisfying the residents. But there would be no residents if there wasn’t any business and commercial operations in the City. It took Mount Pearl to create an industrial park…
    3 – There is more corruption, small and bigger, in City and Government operations that people are ready to admit. Just because it hasn’t reached the scale of Quebec’s corruption (at least there, they investigate it actively), it doesn’t mean that it is putting a real damper on the economy and the financial efficiency of the City and the Government.
    4 – We have the highest literacy rate and education in human history. Yet most people don’t seem to understand the merit of developing and maintaining a local and diversified economy. People ship all their money to New Jersey and Kansas and on the internet, by shopping extensive amounts at Costco, Walmart, etc… And they find normal that they have to go away to work and make a living…. I don’t know how we can change this mentality and culture. Penny wise and pound foolish…
    5 – The majority of people in NL work for the government or related organisations. Therefore, these governmental organisations are substantially governed by the unions. The bureaucrats and politicians look after themselves. We saw that clearly in the last City budget and the last Government budget. And these people are earning above average wages, benefits and pensions. So long as the majority of the economy is the government itself, we’ll be in deficit and long term debt up to our eyebrows.

  • This all sounds great, I like the optimistic and creative approach. BUT. And there’s always a but, it’s difficult for people who live pay check to pay check, two weeks at a time, to hear that the “review” process will take two years. It sort of sounds like long term job security for the folks at city hall, when many residents are worried if they’ll have a job two months from now. And then, at the end of this two year period of review, nothing will have actually been changed – where changes need to be made will only be identified. For young people, who have lived their entire lives in the technology and information age, we can’t help but wonder why it’s taking so long to see real action being taken when there is so much information and data at the finger tips of our leaders. Dave, and others like him, bring youth and energy to city hall, no doubt about it, but it seems like a lot of that youthful energy is being burnt up fighting the dinosaurs stuck in their bureaucratic ways.

    • Hey DT, totally hear you, and yes it’s a battle. But we will be making changes throughout the review process with an update – with actionable recommendations – coming as early as this June.

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