Multi Year Budget – A New Frontier for STC

Multi Year Budget – A New Frontier for STC

Who doesn’t love to talk budgets?  It’s exciting stuff.

I’ll admit when I sit down to look at budgeting and plans for my own company and my personal life – I don’t look forward to it, I don’t know too many that do look forward to it.  We look back over the past couple of years at expenses, income and we look forward to our goals, company growth, home improvements and assess what services we offer.

Here’s the important part of this – we don’t ever just look at one year – we look at multi-years.  We ask ourselves where do we want to be in 1 year, 2 years,  5 years and 10 years.  Then we plan accordingly.  Does this mean we set our budget and plans in stone and don’t change them? No.  We set goals and make sure that within our plans we have flexibility for the unforseen….like say a pandemic, crazy rates of inflation and whatever else life may throw at us.

As a council – in 2022 – we approved transitioning from creating a single year budget to starting in 2023 creating a budget for three years – 2024, 2025 and 2026.   I for one was very excited at the idea of being able to create a multi-year budget that would:

  • give residents some predictability for their property taxes
  • certainty to the business community looking to invest in St. Catharines
  • savings to the city because staff will not be spending half of the year on budgeting
  • gives both Council and City staff the ability to make long term plans for road works, sidewalk improvements, rejuvinating parks, recreation programs and a whole host of other services we provide to the community without having to renegotiate with council every year.


On Wednesday at our Budget Standing Committee, the Financial Services team presented us a report on the Budget Planning and Control Policy which is the next step in moving forward with creating our first multi-year budget.  It was referred back to staff.

Some of the concerns discussed included:

  • would a multi-year budget actually provide certainty
  • is it a more efficient way of budgeting
  • will it really allow staff to focus on the service levels
  • how can we forcast changes to the financial world like inflation rates
  • how does it relate to the strategic plan and does the strategic plan need to be updated
  • will multi-year budgeting take council out of the budget process
  • council will loose control over managing the budget and any increases

Is it a big change?  Yes.  Will there be a learning curve? Yes.  Is it how we’ve always done things? No.

I’ll admit some disappointment in not being able to move forward with the multi-year budgeting process.  I have read about how it works for other municipalities.  Learned about the process, looked at the budgets and watched the council meetings.

Are we the first city to do this?  No. Calgary moved to multi-year budgets in 2004 and in the past eight years many other municipalities have moved to multi-year budgets including: Hamilton, London, Markham and York Region, Guelph, Waterloo, Chatham-Kent and Innisfil.  All of these municipalties have said they wouldn’t go back to single year budgets – because the benefits outweigh the negatives.

I am hopeful that we will take the next step start the multi-year budgeting process that I believe will allow us to make better long-term decisions, improve our levels of service, get better value for money when undertaking improvement projects – while building in the flexibility to make adjustments along the way.

Maybe you’ve got some questions. What is a multi-year budget? What are the benefits? Can changes be made to the budget?

Here’s what the City of London’s FAQ says:

What is a Multi-Year Budget?

The Municipal Act, 2001 authorizes a municipality to prepare and adopt a budget covering a period of two to five years.  The City of London has chosen to utilize a four year period.

Rather than approving a budget annually, Council approves budgets for the next four years, subject to annual re-adoption, to establish funding in support of achieving Council’s Strategic Plan. 

The last year of the multi-year budget is subject to reconfirmation by the new term of Council, also ensuring any changes are linked to the Strategic Plan.


What are the benefits to a Multi-Year Budget?

A Multi-Year Budget allows:

                      • Better accountability between funding plans and costs of services to Londoners.
                      • Better aligns longer-term goals and objectives with longer-term funding plans.
                      • Provides greater certainty to residents about the future direction of their taxes.
                      • More efficient use of time and resources as the organization is not constantly preparing budgets.


Can changes be made after the Multi-Year Budget is approved?

Yes, an important element of the Multi-Year Budget is the Annual Budget Update process. It is required under the Municipal Act, 2001. Council must readopt the budget each year. Any changes that are required to make the budget compliant with the provisions of the Municipal Act, 2001, will be completed at this time. Annual updates will also provide Council the opportunity to adjust the budget to provide flexibility for events or circumstances that require funding and resource adjustments.