Opinion – Caution needed on budget dipping

Filed under: Opinion |

by Fred Groves

If you’ve driven or walked through the downtown areas of Essex or Harrow lately, you would have noticed a transformation.

Several businesses in both communities are rejuvenating the outside of their buildings, thanks in part to the Town’s Community Improvement Program.

From what I have seen so far, the upgrades look great and can only enhance the business districts.

In Essex, nothing to this extent has happened since the 1980 explosion, which wiped out a block on both sides, and resulted in many structures having to be torn down or major renovations having to be done. Some of those merchants had to wait up to seven years for a lawsuit to payout to get their money back.

The CIP is an excellent program that forms a partnership between the individual business owners and the Town. They essentially split the bill on certain approved improvements up to a certain limit.

I like what I see so far, however, there is one flaw to this program that must be pointed out.

At a recent Council meeting, it was decided to dip into the 2018 budget of up to $50,000 to assist even more businesses in their facelifts. The money is available; however, I think this is setting a dangerous precedent.
While I have been critical of Council the last couple of months, one of the things I must applaud them for is their vision in creating a 2017-2021 Capital Forecast (I keep this document within my grasp on my desk).

It allows Council and department heads to know what they have money-wise and what they plan to have in the future. Therefore, they can budget and plan for what they need and want.

Taking money from 2018 and using it to pay for the CIP now is not the best business practice and here is why.
First and foremost: how does Council know the money will be there in 2018 for the CIP? Things change and rainy days happen. Although Essex has a nest egg of about $24 million, a lot of that, as I have mentioned before, is already earmarked.

Secondly, and this is a biggie, if I was a department head, I’d be a little peeved my projects aren’t being expedited a little more quickly like the CIP is.

For example, Essex Centre has been on the list of projects for a few years now to get a splash pad. Currently there is $316,000 set aside with the remaining $84,000 to come out of the 2018 budget.

So, if they can take $50,000 out of the 2018 budget for CIP, why can’t they take $84,000 out of the $24 million reserves and build the splash pad now?

Yes indeed, a dangerous precedent