With city administrators spending approximately 10,000 hours preparing each year’s budget, Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh said multi-year budgeting might free up staff resources for other efforts
The city’s longstanding annual budget process might not carry forward into 2024 deliberations, with city administrators asked to investigate the implications of multi-year budgeting.
Ward 9 Coun. Deb. McIntosh tabled a successful motion during Tuesday’s finance and administration committee meeting, which she also chaired, for administration to draft a report by May 16.
Each year’s budget takes city staff approximately 10,000 hours to prepare, McIntosh noted in her motion’s preamble, adding in conversation with Sudbury.com that much of it repeats each year.
The city’s 2023 budget document was 645 pages, and McIntosh argued that some departments prepare virtually the same report each year, which might be redundant.
“The other piece that I think is important is being able to make longer-term decisions, especially with capital,” she told Sudbury.com..”We often talk about tendering and not getting the best deal. I think this will help us.”
Cutting city operations into one-year allotments might not make sense for everything, she said, adding that even with multi-year budgeting it should still be reviewed each year, because much can change in a year.
“We’d be able to approve, say, a two-year capital budget, knowing full well that a lot of our capital projects run over two years anyway,” she said.
Much of the nuance behind multi-year budgeting is expected to come out in city administration’s report, which McIntosh’s motion asks them to prepare for the May 16 finance and administration committee meeting.
If ultimately approved, the intent is to establish multi-year budgeting starting with the 2024 budget.
Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini was the lone member of council to vote against McIntosh’s motion, saying he could not support it until the city fixes what they already have in place.
He said there are “some issues within our budget that we have already found,” but that he’s not ready to bring them forward.
A separate motion related to how the city prepares its budgets passed late last year, when the city’s elected officials requested a report on Greater Sudbury’s zero-based budgeting potential.
City auditor general Ron Foster confirmed during Tuesday’s meeting that he will be presenting a report to city administration during the June audit committee meeting.
According to last year’s motion by Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier and McIntosh, the audit will compare “the anticipated costs and benefits of such reviews with the current value-for-money audit approach” and recommend services for future zero-based reviews in a report to the audit committee on June 20, 2023.
In a past report to city council, administration defined zero-based budgeting as follows:
“Every budget line begins at zero for each new budget period. Each cost and revenue element is assessed to determine if it is still required for delivering the business plan. Services and service levels are reviewed and changes are considered to find a result that achieves desired financial objectives.”
During a presentation to city council last year, CAO Ed Archer said the approach might be helpful, and if adopted on a gradual approach through the city’s 58 lines of service, could save the city $3 to $5 for every dollar invested.
Although the city prepares annual budgets, they also undertake various longer-term planning exercises, such as long-term financial plans and the Official Plan.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.