Victoria council is banking on a consultant’s organizational review to point the way in shaving almost $500,000 out of the cost of doing city business.
Begun in October and costing $75,000, the “service delivery and organizational review” being conducted by Maximus Canada was supposed to be in councillors’ hands by now.
The fact that the review wasn’t available almost derailed recent budget deliberations as some councillors complained they were being asked to make decisions in the dark.
“The organizational review is not going to be a panacea but it is, I think, going to give us some very helpful information going forward [in terms of] what’s the best structure of the city,” Coun. Lisa Helps said. “But I honestly have no idea where the savings are going to come from. If we had an idea, we wouldn’t have to hire a consultant.”
The review is now due in April. While city manager Gail Stephens says she has received a rough draft, the comparables — numbers comparing Victoria’s operations to cities of similar size — are not included, so it’s not ready for distribution.
Helps said any savings to be found through the organizational review are probably going to require a fundamental shift in thinking, including “wrestling with the really big-picture questions, like salaries and benefits for all of the city’s employees.”
“This is not the 1950s. It’s not the 1960s or ’70s. We’re in a fundamentally different economic climate, and I see that there’s lots of possibility in that,” Helps said. “I see where the city can be way more enterprising, way more entrepreneurial, way more innovative. But that takes time.”
A year ago, at Helps’s urging, Victoria councillors agreed to limit property tax increases to 3.25 per cent and to move to a three-year budgeting cycle.
Councillors have approved in principle a budget for 2013 that meets the target.
Some of the austerity measures adopted include:
• limiting salary increases for the mayor, councillors and exempt staff to zero in 2013.
• reducing the operating budget increase for capital spending to 1.25 per cent from the previously planned 1.50 per cent.
• limiting the police budget increase to 2.00 per cent for 2013.
Now, as council looks to hit the same target for 2014 and 2015, there is no low hanging fruit to grab.
Recommendations for the next two years’ budgets include asking the Greater Victoria Library Board to limit budget increases for Victoria’s contribution to 2.00 per cent; asking the Victoria Esquimalt Police Board to limit Victoria’s share of the police budget to 2.00 per cent; partial automation of some parkades during slow periods (now to be considered within a larger review of parking services); possible advertising inside city parkades and on parking machines; reduction in some seasonal programming in Centennial Square; and continue with the 1.25 per cent increase in capital spending.
At least $434,000 still has to be found to meet targets for coming years.
And while the municipal property tax increase is being limited to 3.25 per cent — meaning about an additional $78 on a typical home assessed at $519,000, and an additional $480 for the average business — city utility rates are increasing at higher percentages.
The city’s 2013 sewer utility rate increase is 10.3 per cent, resulting in an additional $18 for the average homeowner and $432 for the average commercial property. The 2013 water utility rate increase is 8.3 per cent, costing the average homeowner $25 and the average commercial property $600.
Coun. Shellie Gudgeon said the increases are unsustainable.
“This is a discussion we need to have,” Gudgeon said. “The property taxes are going up 3.25 per cent. The next discussion at the next budget, we’ll have to start reining in all increases for any municipal services.”
© Copyright 2013