Saskatoon·Opinion

City budget is a 'failure' for Saskatoon's future

You could be forgiven for missing any reference in the recently released Saskatoon budget to vision, strategic planning, long-range planning or the growth plan to half a million people. The reason you missed it is because these things are barely mentioned — anywhere.

Saskatoon ‘cannot stand still in a time of rapid change’

It is not good enough to completely ignore the future of the city in any budget, according to Alan Wallace. (Dan Zakreski/CBC News)

You could be forgiven for missing any reference in the recently released Saskatoon budget to vision, strategic planning, long-range planning or the growth plan to half a million people.

The reason you missed it is because these things are barely mentioned — anywhere.  

They are not mentioned in the budget summary or highlights and not in the city manager's presentation to city council. What happened to all the future-focused, big-city sustainable innovation to get Saskatoon to a population of 500,000?

You won't notice any forward-looking urban planning until you get a hundred pages in.

When you do get there, you will notice something interesting. Not less than $200 million of funded and unfunded projects related to the Growth Plan to Half a Million, active transportation, regional planning and transit is piled up in years 2019-22.

With expenditures like that only 14 months away, shouldn't there be some mention of it in the 2018 budget? At the very least in the city manager's presentation and highlights?

For example, if you were to look under transportation in the section of budget dealing with transit, there is no mention of bus rapid transit (BRT) at all, or even a reference to look for BRT in another part of the budget.

(City of Saskatoon)

I hope the reason there is no utterance anywhere of bus rapid transit, the redevelopment of major corridors like Eighth Street and 22nd Street, infill, healthy core neighbourhoods or a thriving downtown is not because these are viewed by our city leaders as expensive luxuries.

It is for exactly the opposite reason why we should be discussing these initiatives. These initiatives are the key to a more livable, sustainable and less expensive city of the future. These are responsible, important and necessary options for our future.  

Mistake to focus on present instead of future

This budget is almost entirely focused on what we are going to do in 2018 — period. Most of the charts in the city manager's presentation end at 2018. Our long-serving city manager, Murray Totland, is retiring by 2018, but for heaven's sake, there is a future after he leaves, is there not?

It is like the city is showing everyone how we are going to survive 2018. For next year, the budget is a winner; job well done.

What you will see is more pavement, more snow removal, more continuous improvement and more of the same. These are important items, don't get me wrong.

But it is a major mistake to focus only on the here and now without any mention at all about where the big ship 'Saskatoon' is heading. As a document to help inform and prepare Saskatoon for the future, and why it's important to understand and talk about new expenditures, it is a failure.

To be fair to the city's administration, a major funding reduction by the rural-based provincial government was dropped without notice on the city this year. The pressures that reduction is creating is evident in the 2018 civic budget.

Still, it is not good enough to completely ignore the future of the city in any budget. These budget deliberations only occur once a year, and now is the time to talk about the challenges facing us today, and how we are going to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

If we want to see more tax increases, more capital expenditures and more financial pressure, then we should do more of the same.

If we want to be a big city with a high quality of life, higher transit ridership, strategically located density, more options for active and healthier lifestyles, more options for working and moving around, then the city needs to lead that dialogue – especially at budget time.

Our city cannot stand still in a time of rapid change. My advice to everyone is to take a close look at expenditures in 2019 to 2022 and decide if this where you want Saskatoon to grow.  

About the Author

Alan Wallace is a senior planning consultant with V3 Companies of Canada Ltd. and former director of planning and development with the City of Saskatoon.

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