Council adds flexibility to spending decisions

Singles out road works as potential beneficiary

District of Houston

The District of Houston has adopted a policy providing it greater flexibility in deciding how to spend money.

It’s done so through an addition and change to the bylaw council passes each year outlining the District’s five-year financial plan.

The bylaw change specifically applies to how particular projects may be financed by a combination of the District’s surpluses from prior years not allocated to a reserve fund and grants from senior governments.

“If senior government grants are not approved for projects partially financed by surplus funds, council may authorize, on a case-by-case basis, the reallocation of surplus funds from that project to expenditures on road capital infrastructure works,” reads the new policy.

District of Houston chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck said staff would present road works project options and finances available to council for consideration should an occasion arise where the new policy could come into play.

And once bids had been received providing a better indication of costs, council would then make a decision.

The added flexibility follows the District’s challenge in either rebuilding or repairing its road network, something the District has acknowledged it does not have the financial capability to carry out.

The District did, however, undertake more road work than first planned for the past several years thanks to using portions of a provincial grant received in both 2019 and 2020 allowing it to spend on any capital project it wished.

And last year it also benefited from a doubling of the federal gas tax grant, something the federal government said it wants to repeat this year.

The new policy emphasizing the ability to pivot to undertake road works does not impair the District’s overall approach to financial management, surpluses or reserve funds.

Provincial legislation forbids municipalities from spending more money than they bring in, with the District’s financial plan bylaw affirming “revenue projections are conservative and authorized expenditures are closely monitored. The combination of conservative revenue projects and controlled expenditures should produce a modest annual operating surplus.”

As it is, the District’s five-year plan passed each year does indicate reserve funds could provide the money for capital expenditures and to purchase equipment or spend money in other areas where costs may fluctuate significantly from year to year.