City councillors and department heads are beginning budget deliberations for 2014.
These are the discussions that will lay the groundwork for spending in the upcoming year.
Groups and organizations will be making their annual pitches to council for financial support for 2014, but the city is finding more difficult to keep up with the requests it receives each year.
Council will have to reconsider who it funds and to what extent tax dollars can be made available to such organizations.
All of these organizations are worthwhile and all do good work but there comes a time when they should seek out alternative resources for funding. In short, the city can’t afford to keep giving away money that could be better spent elsewhere.
In 2013, the city budgeted $882,250 in grants and donations to organizations and events in Summerside.
The city is facing major expenditures such as the operation of Credit Union Place.
At a pubic meeting on the 2014 budget, a former city councillor suggested that people from outside the community be charged user fees when they come to Credit Union Place as a means of deferring some the operating costs off local taxpayers.
That could work.
Ditch infilling is another contentious issue that comes to roost each and every budget year and is one of the most costly project facing the city.
This has been an issue since amalgamation back in 1995, and residents are demanding these dangerous ditches be replaced with storm sewers.
One of the bright spots for the city will be the availability of federal infrastructure dollars to help offset the costs of many capital improvement projects but that still leaves council with the responsibility of funding programs and services while dealing with $68-million debt.
The payment schedule of that debt has been hampered by a change in the way the province deals with the city.
The City of Summerside had a deal with the Liberal government of Catherine Callbeck in 1995, called the Comprehensive Urban Services Agreement (CUSA), that provided tax credits to municipalities based on development. Under the agreement the arrangement could not be changed without being mutually agreed upon.
However, in 2008, the province opted to replace CUSA with a grant system to municipalities.
Under the grant system, the city has received less provincial funding. Between 2008 and 2013, the city received $1.3 million less than it would have received under the tax credit system.
Council will have until the end of March to come up with a budget that will get the best use out of the taxpayers’ money.
Council also needs to get after the provincial government to come up with a more equitable funding formula for municipalities across the province.