2010 Citizen Budget Survey Results

Library Cuts or end Business Tax Break?

Read: Full Think City's survey results

Think City conducted the Citizen Budget survey from Nov. 6 to Dec. 1 involving 2,158 people. All surveys were gathered online through our web site.

The main questions on our survey involved budgeting priorities and policies, tax increases and shifts, as well as, alternatives for closing the $28.1 million budget gap.

The purpose of asking these questions through our own budget survey was to examine issues we felt were not being raised in the city's consultation and to demonstrate that it is possible to initiate a more effective outreach strategy than has been initiated by city hall to date.

When it comes to the city's public consultation, based on our survey results and our own observations, it was rushed, poorly promoted and not very accessible or engaging for citizens. When we asked respondents how informed they were about the city consultation opportunities:

  • 59 per cent did not know about the community meetings; and
  • 62 per cent did not know about the budget section on the city's website;
  • 66 per cent did not know about this hearing today.

The effect of this lack of awareness was reflected in our next question. When we asked why people did not participate in the opportunities offered by city hall the answer that received the highest number of responses (46%) was that respondents did not know about the opportunities available. The answer that received the lowest number of responses (4%) was that people were not sufficiently interested in the operating budget.

This suggests to Think City that the low participation rate in the city's consultation process was not due to lack of interest but an inadequate engagement process. Moreover, when asked what level of budget participation citizens felt was appropriate, nearly two thirds of respondents said they want a higher level of citizen involvement than currently offered by the city.

Based on our survey results, it is clear the city needs to substantially improve how it engages and informs the public about the city budget and the opportunities to impact the decisions made by council.

As for citizens' budget priorities, this year, as in past years, we found the majority of respondents want to maintain or even increase funding for libraries, parks and recreation, fire and rescue, civic grants and utilities. In addition, as we saw in last year's Citizen Budget survey, the public is willing to see more cuts to administrative services - signalling the city's need to exercise some belt tightening in response to the tougher economic times we all find ourselves in.

The policy priorities that people considered most important were better transportation, a reduction in homelessness and poverty, and increasing affordable housing for both low- and middle-income residents.

The majority of respondents were in favour of a three to five per cent tax increase, suggesting some service cuts were acceptable to them. At the same time, support for the tax break for businesses is down dramatically from last spring's 2009 budget consultation. Only one in five of those surveyed agreed with Mayor Robertson and the Vision council's policy to put a greater burden on homeowners while giving some businesses a tax holiday. In fact, 75 per cent of those we surveyed now say they want council to explore alternatives to the so-called tax shift that would help better benefit small businesses, without giving the same tax breaks to larger corporations.

Finally in terms of ways the city could find additional revenues without cutting vital frontline services, respondents were most supportive of the city deferring the tax break for businesses and freezing managers' salaries for 2010. Support for more revenues from longer parking meter hours was mixed.

For a more detailed summary of the 2010 Citizen Budget results, click here.