The Town of Clarenville says a lack of public interest in their previous attempt to engage the public on the budget topic has them opting for a new method of soliciting for suggestions on that all-important question; how do we spend the money?
Finance chair John Pickett is inviting the public to make an appointment with the town and then submit written consultations that can be paired with an oral presentation.
This route is being taken in the hopes that it provides a more inclusive and individualized opportunity for the residents of Clarenville to have their say, said Pickett.
"The last time we had a public session, it wasn't that well attended. I think if we change the process and make it more personable, more people may want to meet on a more individualized basis," Pickett told the Packet last week.
The town hasn't been in the habit of encouraging the public to engage in the budget debate, admits Pickett. He noted that in the last four years, there has been one open public consultation and prior to that, it was handled exclusively by the finance committee and member of council.
"We're hoping this way we can get more interest; More individuals and businesses who may want to make a presentation and have some input or may even have some concrete suggestions as to how council can spend tax dollars more wisely."
Pickett suggests those interested in taking part in the process first contact the town to make an appointment and then prepare a written statement to be delivered on Oct. 30. A presentation can also be made if an applicant chooses, but it must be kept to 15 minutes.
He said the topic that will be at the forefront of the budget committee's concerns will be that of the mil rate, and how to adjust it accordingly in the wake of skyrocketing property values.
"I would suspect a lot of the conversation will be around the current mil rate. The municipal assessment agency has completed their assessment and the value has gone up by approximately 32 per cent (residentially) and 10 per cent commercially.
"In some cases that is going to leave residents paying a fairly hefty property tax rate. The conversation we will have is whether or not to change the mil rate; that would be no doubt our biggest challenge, trying to come up with an equal balance," he said.
However, regardless of the topics that do arise as a result of the public budget consultations, one local resident feels this proposed strategy of "by appointment only" consultation will only serve to disenfranchise many in the community.
"I just don't think it's a good strategy," begins Paul Tilley, an instructor at the College of the North Atlantic's Clarenville Campus and a social commentator through the local blog, Our Town.
"They want it private and they want it writing. What does that tell me? You just sliced down the number of people who will take part, and you have formalized the process in such a way that people are going to say 'I'm not going to bother with it,'" says Tilley, who is also concerned about the timing of the announcement: Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the council meeting was the first mention of this style of consultation.
With the budget being finalized in December, Tilley feels consultations need to take place in September at the latest if they are to be effective.
"How much room is there to influence the decision at this point?"
Tilley, a former town councilor, views the written consultations as another example of the level of disengagement that exists among some members of council.
"The consultation process is not something that is new, there are lots of example of best practices. For example, social media; the whole purpose is to allow for communication and the town hasn't even entertained using that as a tool.
"Do they reflect the population if they are not engaged with the population?"
As for what he feels are the issues that need to be discussed prior to this year's finalized budget, Tilley said a greater emphasis will need to be placed on long-term town planning, which he said is evident in how council is currently handling implementing sidewalks within the town.
"For example, they have the contract to do sidewalks, you know why we (the town's taxpayers) have to pay that? Because someone forgot to put a stipulation in (the town's regulations) to force businesses to put in a sidewalk; there was no planning."
Tilley also pointed out the water line break at the Kent parking lot this summer which resulted in the water tower being drained to one-third. He said this compromised the town's fire safety, and at least a half a dozen issues he has already sent in a written document to town councilors.
At the end of the day, Tilley said all he wants to see is more community engagement because he feels when that happens, municipal leaders become better at their jobs.
"No one goes on council to make money, I have a lot of respect for any one who goes on council. It is a tough job, (but) council works better when there are people there (watching council)."
Tilley, for the record, would also like to make one thing clear.
"And no, I'm not running for election (in) next year('s municipal election)."