In the past, public input on the town budget was collected after it was presented to the council in October.
That has all changed this year with a new approach that seeks public feedback on town services in the first step of the town's 2022 budget process.
Town CAO Mike Derricott says it doesn't ask any specific dollar and cents questions but asks how people are experiencing living in the community on a service-level basis. He says providing that guidance will be valuable in the creation of the budget.
The town is asking what's working, what isn't, and how can it best serve the people of Cochrane now and in the future. The survey lists town operational services and asks if service levels should increase, decrease or stay the same.
CAO Derricott says leaving input until the very end of the process has made it almost impossible to make any meaningful adjustments.
"When we are building a budget, we want it to be driven as much as possible by the service experiences of the residents and businesses in the community," explains Derricott. "What we were finding is that, as Cochrane has grown, the budget has become more sophisticated and takes a lot more work to prepare for council to see it in the fall.
He continues, "Then, as council gives their initial feedback and we invite the public to comment, we're at a stage where it honestly becomes difficult to pivot and adjust based on feedback we might be receiving from the public. So, as well-intended as that process was, it didn't leave us as much flexible as we would like."
He believes early input from residents will provide town administration and town council comfort in knowing the public was given a chance to support the creation of the budget in a meaningful way.
For an operation as large and complex as the town, the development of a budget is a long process. It is developed over the summer by the administration and a draft is presented to town council every fall. It's debated, then finalized in December.
While most of the focus is on the first year of the budget, it actually outlines the intentions of the town over a three-year period. By doing so, it allows for steps to be coordinated as best as possible from one year to the next in a progressive manner.
Residents will continue to get a second opportunity to provide input into the budget after a draft is presented to council. Derricott says a different question will be asked at that point.
"It will be more of a 'Did we get this right?' kind of question, rather than, 'Hey, help us create this."
Input on the initial survey will be accepted until May 14 on the Let's Talk Cochrane website located here. Paper copies of the survey will be available at Cochrane FCSS and Cochrane Public Library.