A very enthusiastic Leslie Ford, director of finance for the Town of Smithers, presented at the Oct. 10 council meeting a new online way for people to engage in the budget process.
“It’s actually a very new, innovative public engagement tool that we’re using,” Ford told council.
While not everyone may like accounting quite as much, the Smithers Citizen Budget site is very simple to use and does give a good impression of where taxpayer money goes or could go. Results from people who take part are sent to council as feedback during its budget planning for 2018.
Residents and non-residents can take part, with those living in Smithers and out being told by their postal code. No other personal information need be given.
A few caveats: capital costs outside of roads and sidewalks are not included because funding sources for things like art and culture centres are usually from a combination of grants and loans that cannot be set into a budget until they happen. Airport expenses are also separate as the Smithers Regional Airport, though owned by the Town, is usually required to maintain itself. This simulator only deals with property taxes: how much is taken in and what it goes towards.
The Smithers Citizen Budget website can be found at smithers.citizenbudget.com.
“Council and I are excited at this new approach to engaging residents in the budget process. Our hope is that Citizen Budget will not only help residents provide feedback, but also understand some of the important choices and trade-offs involved” said Mayor Taylor Bachrach in a media release.
The Citizen Budget simulator exercise allows residents to use their own property assessment to see how much they currently pay for a variety of Town services (roads and sidewalks, protective services, recreation and culture, economic development, transit services and more). By using the slider tools within the website, people can increase, decrease or maintain service levels in each area and see what impact that has on their annual municipal property taxes.
If people do not know their assessment, or are not a Smithers property owner, they can input any assessment value, or use the default assessment value within the program.
This interactive website will be open to the public until Sunday, Nov. 12.
For those people who do not have a computer, or who would like more information on how to complete this online exercise, a Citizen Budget information session will be held on Thursday, Oct. 26 in town hall at 6:30 p.m.