October 22nd, 2020

Strain on City finances


By Kalinowski, Tim on November 27, 2019.

City manager Bramwell Strain speaks to reporters Tuesday regarding efficiency and cost-cutting recommendations. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald

tkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

City manager Bramwell Strain said council’s vote to accept all recommendations of Phase One of the KPMG operational review will likely mean they will be able to complete Phase 2 deliberations by next June, then in Phase 3 make decisions on the potential sale of public facilities and the consolidation of City departments.

“We want the second phase to be complete before we look at departmental amalgamation or the organizational structure,” he confirmed. “We want to make sure we have that whole picture.”

The KPMG report outlined the City has a bloated civil service with over 1,600 full-time employees compared to other jurisdictions of comparable size in Alberta, and that residents here pay far more for services than any other jurisdiction in the province.

“It said we had very high service costs, but we also have very high client satisfaction,” stressed Strain. “I think you need to report on both those things simultaneously.

“We pay more, but we tend to be happier with the services we have.”

Thus, he said, the operational review is not intended to be a complete burn down of City-owned facilities or trigger massive cuts across the board. Instead, it allows the City to sift what it has and strategically cut where it makes sense to do so, while at the same time allowing citizens to have the fullest view of what those cuts would entail and solicit their feedback through city council.

Strain said considerations around sale of the Enmax Centre, for instance, were a good example of how the City is applying those lenses.

“The Enmax is essentially an entity which needs to have cost-recovery,” he explained. “We need that building full; whether it is the Hurricanes, concerts, whatever it happens to be, we need that building full. At various times throughout its history, it has operated at between 70 per cent to 85 per cent cost recovery, which means it is being subsidized, or tax-supported, at 15 to 30 per cent every year. That means we need to be a promoter, and we’re putting every event in there on the backs of tax support. So the question is: Is that what the community wants? Or is there another model to do that? And are we in competition with the private sector? Which again, speaks to the mandate of the City and the services we provide. We should not be in that kind of competition space. We are here to provide public services not private-sector services.”

Strain said examination of the $70-million worth of services provided by the City departments at the heart of Phase One and the $200 million which will be examined in the departments under consideration in Phase 2 will provide valuable insight to council on how to proceed with cost-reduction initiatives and add value for taxpayers moving forward. And, incidentally, put the City in a great position to weather provincial government austerity measures and grant-spending cuts at the same time, he said.

“What this did was set us up well for about the $1.5 million we will be short on provincial money this year,” stated Strain. “This has shown city council where potentially some of those savings could eventually come in, and what the service impacts are. This actually put us in a very good spot to respond to those provincial cuts.”

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