fire hydrant

Thankfully, the City of Kitchener’s 2012 budget process was much smoother than in 2011. Considering the complexity of the budgeting process, that alone is quite an achievement. But there was a bit of a rough patch at the very end when the fire department took a $200,000 cut.

On the one hand, I can understand that decision. Many councillors were elected promising to keep taxes as low as possible. Being the department with the largest expenditures, the fire department is (at least with the benefit of hindsight) and obvious target to look for cuts to avoid an unacceptably high property tax increase. We shouldn’t be surprised by this result nor should we complain. It’s what we voted for in 2012 and is a result of how municipal government works. I respect Councillors who voted for it in an effort to do what they said they would do.

I just wish that somewhere along the line, we had been told that a cut to the fire department budget was being considered. Some people are quite upset as a result of being taken by surprise.

Like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford or not, you can give him credit for making his position clear on what cuts he was seeking. I’m not familiar with how the Toronto budget process works compared to Kitchener but I would like to think that a part of our process should be knowing what is proposed as cuts to the budget as presented before it comes to a vote. Having public input into the budget process only helps if the public knows what cuts are being considered as well as what expenses are proposed. As far as I know, City Council made that decision on budget day without seeking public input or support. I would like to see the process improved so that we are not taken by surprise by a major decision so late in the game.

Given my posts on the police budget you might mistakenly think that I support the fire department cuts. I don’t but I can live with them. My concern with the police budget was that I thought we needed to do more to budget for crime prevention by supporting the work of nonprofits who deal with the root causes of crime and that just increasing the police budget worked against the overall crime prevention effort. But with the fire department, I’m not aware of any significant investments needed to help prevent fires. I’m pretty confident that what the fire department says it needs as a minimum is what it needs as a minimum–which is pretty close to my revised position on the police budget.

Having said that, I expect there is room in the fire department budget for operational efficiencies to the tune of $200,000. I’m not sure that should mean losing an aerial truck for 70 – 75 days because I haven’t seen any information that having only one aerial truck instead of two will definitely cause problems. I’m sure that there is a higher level of risk but unless there have been one or more occasions in the past when it was a must to have two aerial trucks responding at the same time, I think it should be an acceptable level of risk for 2012. I look to the Fire Chief to determine if that is the best way to meet Council’s decision. But if that is what he decides, it should be closely monitored and be reviewed as a part of the 2013 budget process.

Personally, I think that fire service should be a regional responsibility anyhow. But that’s a whole other story!

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