Friday, April 29, 2011

(as published in the Gaily Gleaner, April 29/11)

The City of Fredericton hasn't had to dip into its fuel contingency budget yet, but spiking fuel costs are starting to push up expenditures for the first quarter of the year.

Fredericton Transit incurred an $8,601 over-expenditure from its first-quarter budget estimates for January to March with the higher costs driven up by additional fuel consumption. The city's snow-control budget is up $146,374 over projections for the first part of this budget year due to additional overtime for snow removal, sanding and salting. The snow-removal figures include $53,000 in additional fuel due to snowstorms in the first quarter of the year.

Coupled with increases in fuel prices, the city is also paying more in provincial gasoline taxes due to an increase announced by the provincial government in its March budget. The province increased its take of gasoline taxes by 3.5 cents. The provincial tax on regular fuel climbed to 13.6 cents a litre from 10.7 and the tax on diesel rose to 19.2 cents a litre from 16.9 cents a litre.

"The provincial tax increase is estimated to impact us by about $45,000 for the year," said finance committee chairman Coun. Mike O'Brien. As part of planning for the $98 million 2011 general fund budget, the city had reduced its fuel contingency reserve by about $200,000 after fuel prices seemed to level off in 2010.

O'Brien said the city plans to spend $1.8 million on fuel in 2011. On top of that, it has set aside $134,000 in the fuel contingency reserve for 2011. "We estimate as best we can, based on our fuel consumption, where we think the fuel prices are going to go and put a slight buffer in for bad winters and who knows what," O'Brien said.

"As of the end of March, we're on budget, but if fuel and diesel prices continue to go up, we're going to have to start cutting into our contingency budget. "As it stands right now, we're OK, but I did hear this morning that the prices are supposed to go up another two-tenths of a cent (Thursday) and there are wild rumours that fuel could go up to about $1.50 and if that's the case, we will use up our contingency and more, there's no question." City treasurer Tina Tapley will be monitoring the fluctuations in the price of fuel and city consumption.

O'Brien said the city has tried to conserve its fuel use by implementing anti-idling policies, using more fuel-efficient vehicles and putting additives into diesel fuel to stretch the dollars out a bit more. "Every couple of years, they do a comprehensive review of fleet use, including how many vehicles are being used, how many people are in a car, but you can only go so far and keep the city running," the finance committee chairman said. "But it's a concern to everybody."
The city burns through a lot of fuel to run transit buses, heavy equipment from trucks to snow plows, and fire and police vehicles.

"There's no way to avoid it. We just have to make sure we're doing it as efficiently as we can. There's only so much we can do about the increasing fuel costs other than at budget time trying to budget right. We don't want to be crazy and have too much an excess, but you have to have a slight buffer," he said.

Friday, April 08, 2011

City Finishes year With $340K surplus – audit (as published in the Daily Gleaner on March 29/11)

The City of Fredericton has received a clean audit opinion for 2010.

The audit, conducted by Ernst & Young Chartered Accountants, shows the city ended the 2010 financial year with a $339,928 surplus in its general operating fund, which works out to 0.36 per cent of the $93.2-million budget.

"This audit shows the city is making smart decisions now and is on course for a financially sustainable future," said Coun. Mike O'Brien, chairman of the city's finance and administration committee. "We have a major capital project funding and financing plan in place to keep the city moving forward and our infrastructure reinvestment strategy is a smart way to maintain what we have now," he said.

The 2010 audited financial statement was conducted using the Public Sector Accounting Board accounting standards set for governments by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. This is the second year the city has been audited using the new accounting rules which establishes a valuation on everything the municipality owns - from vehicles to buildings to pipes in the ground and even its pension fund.

Fredericton is the only municipality in New Brunswick to have adopted the modern standard. According to the valuation, the city has $494 million in capital assets.

The city's net debt stands at $84.7 million due to its capital construction that included financing of a new ice hockey arena, fire station, convention centre, parking garage and government office building as well as upgrades to other sports facilities.

"We have the financial resources and physical assets to sustain services, but we will also be keeping a close eye on how events beyond our control may affect us in the future," O'Brien said. "We will continue to be financially responsible, transparent and accountable to Fredericton."

Fredericton Named 6th Best Place to Live in Canada (as published in the Daily Gleaner on March 30/11)

Fredericton is the only municipality in the Atlantic provinces to be named to the Top 10 places to live in Canada by MoneySense magazine in its annual ranking of the country's most liveable communities.

Fredericton was sixth from among 180 Canadian cities and towns with populations of more than 10,000. Cities were rated based on home affordability, climate, prosperity, crime rates, access to health care and lifestyle, with subcategories in each area. Points were also given for transit, amenities and culture.

"This is the fifth straight year that Fredericton has been named to the MoneySense Top 10 list," said Mayor Brad Woodside. "All residents can take great pride in the fact it doesn't get much better than right here at home."

According to MoneySense, Fredericton's top advantages are the affordability of housing and chances of finding work, as well as the number of citizens committed to active transportation.

The unemployment rate is 5.6 per cent, the average household price is $142,642 and 9.28 per cent of the population walks or takes a bike to work.

Other areas in which Fredericton ranked well included: average household income ($76,659); number of doctors for each 1,000 residents (2.27); days of precipitation annually (156.6); and number of days a year where the weather is below freezing (178).

Ottawa-Gatineau was named the best place to live in Canada in 2011, followed by: Victoria, B.C.; Burlington, Ont.; Kingston, Ont.; St, Albert, Alta.; Fredericton; Brandon, Man.; Edmonton, Alta.; Repentigny, Que.; and Winnipeg, Man.

MoneySense is Canada's best-selling investment and lifestyle magazine. It's published six times a year by Rogers Media.