The municipality should be setting aside another $260,000 over and above what it plans to put in reserves next year, says the municipality's chief financial officer.
If you were to simply add that $260,000 to the existing budget, that would mean an eight per cent increase in taxes, Karen Blow told council on Monday night.
Knowing council's stated resistance to that idea, she said there therefore needs to be a discussion about what services the municipality can continue to provide.
She doesn't think it's possible to simply "shave" that much money off the existing budget by saving $200 here and $1,000 there. That would simply take too long to add up to $260,000. Nor would possible efficiencies, such as finding a way to save on telephone costs, make that much of a dent in spending.
"It will get down to a more difficult discussion about what services the municipality wants to provide," she said.
Mayor Bob Turner agreed. Although there are plans to increase revenues through fees and cost recovery, if tax increases are going to be kept to a minimum, it may mean cutting services.
"We need to confront our ghosts," he said, asking Blow to come up with a report about what a $260,000 reduction in the current budget might look like. "Let's see it and get it on the table. Tell us what a $260,000 cut to municipal operations would mean.
Maybe it's not as scary as it sounds but maybe it is."
When presented with what cuts may be necessary, it's then time to look at the merit of tax increases versus service reduction.
Councillor Doug Hooper disagreed with Blow's initial budget premise that there be a built-in two per cent cost of living increase. Other jurisdictions have asked for overall cuts in the budget; he thinks Bowen should aim for a zero per cent increase.
He also thinks the municipality shouldn't grandfather existing services into the budget until the municipality determines whether they provide the best value for taxpayers' dollars.
As well, he wants the municipality to pursue development charges and fee increases as a way of increasing revenues.
Councillor Peter Frinton agrees with a review of services to determine which ones should be continued.
Blow wants to encourage more public participation in the budget process. Perhaps the municipality should consider a spot on the website where people could provide suggestions for efficiencies, cuts or revenue generators. There might also be a way to have people weigh in on which services are a priority.
The $260,000 is needed to plan for future expenditures as infrastructure ages. Blow said that a staff report is needed on the impact - both in revenue and in terms of public reaction - of potential fee increases.