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Archive: ‘Berry Budget’ a self-indulgent sideshow

Originally published March 22, 2006
Richard Berry came down from the mountain to deliver his 12 Amendments — the annual budget sideshow where he proves he is unable to deliver on his promises.

As perhaps Cecil B. DeMille might have said to Charlton Heston during filming of his cinematic epic, “One more time for the camera.”

The artful forger’s arbitrary dictates — amendments to the municipal budget — went nowhere slowly March 13.

Each got thoughtful hearing at the 11th hour — quite literally — as Town Council prepared to pass the budget bylaw.

He set his 12 Amendments like little ducks in a row and saved not one penny.

That suits him fine. He gets to harp on his theme that the Town Council is obstructing his style of regress.

He didn’t help his stated cause to reduce municipal taxes, but his unstated cause of self-indulgence received a few hours of spotlight.

He sought to axe the Community Gaming Corp. and Health and Wellness, gut the museum, bayonet arenas, clerk’s and building functions and fillet other parts of Town operations.

Some were arbitrary reductions, some were based on false information and all had a dictatorial undercurrent — a couple admittedly so — assuredly presented to be shot down.

1. Community Gaming Development Corp. budget be reduced 50 percent, the corporation dissolved and lottery licence functions carried out by a single person. Coun. Tom Lewis called for a registered vote. It lost.

This is a blind hack at a body that is responsible for direct profit to the Town and the prudent use of $5 million in yearly investment in the community’s social infrastructure.

2. Community Health and Wellness be eliminated, although $95,000 in commitments be funded.

Berry said the Town is “too willing” to take over provincial services because so much gaming money has “fallen into the coffers.” Lost (Lewis against).

The bumper stickers on cars a few years ago read “Our hospital is our heart.” This money funds physician recruitment, the community health centre and outreach programs.

3. Cut the portion of the building department budget not funded by development charges. Berry thought this was $104,000, but it turned out to be $63,000. Lost.

Lewis said one thing he’s learned is “if you can’t count to four, don’t bother.”

In no way has Berry ever tried to cooperatively build a consensus — or even a majority — on any matter.

He has relied on an axis of opposition that seems to be coming apart. He has annoyed Coun. Paul Fell who is not averse to sensible cost-cutting.

He’s annoyed everybody from the Mayor, councillors, senior, junior and mid-level staff, local businesses, rank and file taxpayers, developers, some supporters, the feds, the province, and he’s on the radar screen of at least one U.S. agency.

4. Eliminate the $17,000 grant to Communities in Bloom — no wait — cut it by 50 per cent. Lost. Coun. Paul Fell called for registered vote.

Lewis talked about the lack of commitment to fundraising the CIB has expressed. Note that Lewis reduced his council workload by resigning from the CIB committee late last year.

“It’s not up to the Town to beautify the town,” said Berry. You have to view his property from the Friendship Trail, just a little way east from Windmill, to fully appreciate that irony.

5. “Direct the clerk to cut the expenses by 50 per cent. I don’t care how she does it — let’s say $50,000.”

As he did for the CIB resolution, he changed the amount he sought to cut in midstream like he thought of something from out of thin air.

No one seconded his motion.

6. Contract out grass cutting. No seconder.

The public works department is “entertaining that right now,” said director Ron Tripp, and a report will be tabled in April.

“I don’t think we should be entertaining, we should be directing,” said Berry.

7. Cut the arenas budget by half and direct the manager to make the Leisureplex a money-maker or hand it over to a private operator. No seconder.

Agree or disagree with his fiscal philosophies, he may have stumbled over something useful.

If there was an area of town operations that ought to be reviewed strategically, it’s the Leisureplex. It’s been 10 years and its cost to taxpayers is going in the wrong direction.

8. Fund only one paid museum position and rely upon the volunteer force more heavily. Lost. Lewis called for registered vote.

Berry said plenty of museums in the province have one staff and lots of volunteer help.

Tommy Lewis couldn’t help but try to foist a myth on everybody.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake museum has no paid staff, and NOTL “by far outshines Fort Erie in how they promote their history,” he said.

The Niagara Historical Society and Museum has 2.5 full-time equivalent staff. One full-time, two part-time and two summer staff. NOTL has a population of 13,000.

Berry’s staffing coin has two-sides. There are plenty of museums with more than one, two, three staff positions in the province and plenty with fewer volunteers. And few are as credible and comprehensive as Fort Erie’s.

9. Cut all discretionary training for staff: that got whittled down to workshops and conferences, then just the $4,000 allotment for mayor and council attendance at conferences. Lost.

Berry got education and perks mixed up. Regarding attendance at conferences, we’re not even sure all the councillors we’ve sent the past few years even attended.

10. Eliminate video lending at the library. Lost.

The library undermines private video rental shops, he said.

Berry was reminded that the library also provides newspapers, magazines and books that are available elsewhere.

There’s not a bookstore in Fort Erie that provides those types of books — first runs, etc., Berry said.

It was the mayor who reminded him of a bookstore in Ridgeway that sells new books.

And it is highly doubtful the library carries much of what’s available in video stores.

11. Reduce the number of cellphones used by town staff from 35 to five. Lost.

Berry said he hoped to get council to support at least one of his amendments.

12. Sell the computers supplied to councillors and the “program shelved.” Lost.

It’s the 21st century and computers are here. Among the information handling, calculation and communication benefits computers offer, they are also great for desktop publishing. Without them, of course, Berry’s new four-colour letterhead would not exist.

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