Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sometimes, Conflict Can Be Good
(Editorial published by the Daily Gleaner, December 22/10)

Monday night's session of Fredericton city council brought some good news for the city in the form of a budget that acknowledges the fiscal challenges the municipality faces at the moment while also respecting the need to maintain services.

We applaud council for voting through a modest reduction in the tax rate. Sure, the savings it provides to homeowners is small, but it's a symbolic acknowledgement that the rate hasn't gone down in two decades despite the community's good fortune in recent years.

We're impressed that for the most part, municipal jobs have been maintained. Some positions have been cut, but it's been handled through restructuring, ensuring no pink slips had to be doled out.

Coun. Mike O'Brien, chairman of the city's finance and administration committee, said he was actually prepared to make deeper cuts, but there was some opposition on council to cutting too much.

"Deep in my heart, I know there's more savings that could be had that would not have any substantial impact on some of the services that we deliver to the residents," he said Monday.

"But it's to convince the rest of my colleagues to share that vision. We trimmed around the edges. We poked and prodded, but there's more to be had."

But we're pleased with the balance that's been achieved. It seems that this year's budgeting process turned out to be something of an adversarial process, with two main factions emerging in council.

On one side, there were fiscal conservatives such as Coun. O'Brien, looking to make deeper cuts. On the other, there were councillors such as Stephen Chase determined to keep the cuts to a minimum.

Coun. O'Brien laments the fact that not all councillors were on the same page in this budgeting process. We can understand why that might be frustrating. Butting heads with one's colleagues is always more difficult than arriving at a result unanimously.

But the adversarial process that's arisen in the council chamber this year, while possibly arduous for our elected municipal representatives, has achieved the proper result, and that's a budget that respects both the need for fiscal restraint and the city's responsibility to provide reliable levels of service.

It's almost as though a two-party system has unofficially found its way into city hall. For any government to be effective, there needs to be a strong voice in opposition. A government without any checks and balances is less likely to govern effectively.

Furthermore, for government at any level to function properly, it needs to do so openly, and in that respect, this council has achieved that goal. The openness of this budget process is to be applauded and is a policy that should be maintained going forward.

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