Just came back from my umpteenth witnessing of various Councils’ Annual Plan (i.e., budget) consultations.

Usually these have been quite informative for the tiny handful of ratepayers who show up. Unfortunately, the Councillor/staff to citizen ratio generally has been 1:1 or worse!

While the meetings are useful, with the Council folks being forthcoming in the informal discussions, a lot better job could be done with the actual presentation documents.

Highest marks, “8” on a scale of 10, go the Regional Council’s Draft Annual Plan. It’s clear, intelligently written, and sufficiently detailed without being overwhelming. Ratepayers can get a pretty thorough sense of how their monies are being spent.

I’d rate the Napier Draft Annual Plan “5” on the 10 scale. It’s pretty understandable, but a little too sparse for my taste, making it difficult to see what trade-offs, if any, are involved across competing priorities.

In most cases, it’s also difficult to relate spending levels on specific activities to desired outcomes in a meaningful way. For example, NCC is spending $344,000 on Safety Watch, and we’re told the inner city is patrolled 260 nights. OK, are we feeling safe enough yet? Would doubling that spending make us twice as safe? There is a huge difference between “process measures” and meaningful outcomes.

But even the Napier budget document is a fountain of useful information compared to the Hastings Draft Annual Plan, which scores a “1” on the BayBuzz scale of 10.

This is a document that only its mother could love! Indeed, it gets a “1” only because the independent Audit Report claims the numbers at least add up. So that’s like getting points just for showing up!

The document is impenetrable and uninformative. Almost no specificity, compounded by pro forma use of so-called “performance measures” that, like Napier’s, are anything but meaningful in most cases.

I’ve made a formal submission on the Hastings Annual Plan, which you can read here if you’d like the gory details on the questions this document doesn’t answer, and the presentation approach I believe would equip ratepayers to participate in an adequately informed way in budget consultations.

Meantime, I guess I can hope against hope that Napier and Hastings Councils set aside their “not invented here” pride, take a careful look at the HBRC presentation and at least move in that direction next year. For in 2009, matters will be even more complicated as the full LTCCPs (ten year priorities and spending plan) of each Council come up for review.

Drowning in numbers …


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