The town of Lincoln is looking for feedback from residents on its 2021 budget in a time of uncertainty, when in-person attendance at town meetings is impossible.
“Traditionally this is an exciting and lively process…but this year is different,” said Councillor Adam Russell, who is also chair of Lincoln’s budget committee, in his opening remarks at the 2021 Capital and Operational Budget kick off meeting. “This year the town and staff face without knowing where the road will bend. We face building the budget against the landscape of a global pandemic…which has created ripples and waves of uncertainty throughout our community,”
In previous years, the feedback process for the town budget happens at open meetings held in council chambers, where members of the public can attend in-person, share concerns and ask questions live. But due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s town meetings are online-only, which has disrupted the live feedback loop.
Regardless, Russell is urging residents to get involved. “We want people to be a part of the process that we’re trying to encourage as much engagement as possible,” he told The Bench News.
The budget meetings are a series that run almost every other Wednesday. They started Oct. 7, and will run through to the new year, when council signs off on a final budget in January. Through the process various parts of the 2021 plan and associated costs will be presented to council by town manager Mike Kirkopoulos and his staff.
As the budget components are presented and debated, Russell is urging residents to share any feedback they have with their councillors, who can in turn present it at the budget meetings before the end of the year.
Residents can review video of the kick-off budget meeting by visiting the Town of Lincoln Youtube channel.
Video of each subsequent budget meeting, will be posted as each happens. The budget meeting dates are marked on the town calendar here. The next meeting is scheduled for Wed. Nov. 4.
The meetings will continue into January until council concludes its deliberations and all feedback from residents has been shared through the town’s councillors.
Russell said residents can comment on specific parts of the budget as they come up or generally about broad issues. “If residents just want to keep it simple and suggest no (tax) increase…that is great. Or if they want to get into specifics about our capital projects…that is great too. We will take any feedback this year,” he said.
He will be posting the focus of each budget meeting on his Facebook page to help guide people through the lengthy budget process: https://www.facebook.com/AdamRussellWard1.
Town manager Kirkopoulos said the town staff and its councilllors will also be doing outreach via social media, virtual open houses, and via a survey.
Residents that want to share feedback should contact their ward councillor via phone, email or whatever means they like, to share their thoughts and opinions on any budget issue that they care about. Contact information for councillors is listed on Lincoln’s website here.
Tax rate changes not yet set
Infrastructure and town development projects will be covered in the budget process, as will any possible tax increases. No rate has been discussed yet. However the Niagara Regional Council has indicated it rate increases will likely be a one to two per cent increase.
“That is very conservative compared to years past,” said Russell. For Lincoln, “I am hoping for less, but we want to match the conservative pragmatic approach this year.”
He said “we are working towards minimal impact on our residents”. The final rate set by the town will take into consideration the difficult year residents have endured due to the pandemic, especially given its impact on throttling the tourist sector in the area.