Council debates core services review suggestions
The committee of the whole recommended council pursue several of the core review money-saving suggestions forwarded to them by the select committee, which chose to have them investigated first because they may impact the 2013 budget.
Of the 193 suggestions to council from KPMG, the select committee chose 14 to forward to the committee of the whole, which met Wednesday in council chambers.
Mayor Shari Green pointed out all the suggestions will be considered in time.
“Everything is on the table. We choose to bite it off in chunks,” she said.
She added “everything” includes Initiatives Prince George, which is in the ‘don’t do’ section of the KPMG report.
“We may or may not agree. We need to tackle things now that can affect the 2013 budget,” she said.
Earlier in the meeting staff presented the operating budget guidelines which are put together using preliminary numbers to give council an idea of where the city is financially, which in turn helps them as they begin the budgeting process. As things are now, the tax increase would be around seven per cent, though one suggestion that will be forwarded to the upcoming council meeting would lower that by half a percentage point.
“Seven per cent is unacceptable and unsustainable,” Coun. Dave Wilbur said, a sentiment other councillors reiterated.
However, the numbers do not take into account savings that may be had through the core services review.
TERMINATING OPERATION OF THE PINE VALLEY GOLF COURSE; DEVELOP FOR SALE
Green mentioned that the market has changed when it comes to golf, that the private sector offers a lot of options locally now, when it comes to golf, and wondered if it is the job of a municipality to be in the golf business in the first place.
If the city keeps it, she added, it will need more than $1 million in capital upgrades.
Coun. Cameron Stolz said he felt it right to cut their losses on the Pine Valley Golf Course and turn it into taxable land.
Wilbur said he knows usage is down at the golf course and knows it needs over a million dollars in upgrades and added he would like to see a report back from administration on the subject.
“We offer amenities to attract people,” Coun. Garth Frizzell said.
He added Pine Valley doesn’t target high incomes, and wondered what kind of future opportunities the city was giving up if it divests itself of the course.
Coun. Lyn Hall asked if it was possible to turn Pine Valley into a nine-hole golf course and add development around that.
Coun. Frank Everitt said he isn’t committed to a final decision, but he’d like more information.
“Pine Valley Golf Course is a jewel,” Coun. Brian Skakun said, adding he would not support its sale.
A committee vote to forward the matter to council with the suggestion they ask administration to investigate the matter further passed, with Skakun opposed.
DECREASE # OF COUNCILLORS FROM EIGHT TO SIX
Wilbur pointed out reducing the number of councillors also reduced the opportunity for more diversity, the additional life skills to help in the decision making process and lowered the chance of adding more females to council.
Skakun agreed, adding losing diversity on council would be a much bigger loss to the community.
Coun. Murry Krause agreed diversity is important, but said council should be exposed to cuts as well.
“If we are asking the rest of the city to do more with less, we should be doing the same thing around the council table,” Stolz said, adding when council reviewed and increased its own wages, many wondered aloud if it was leading by example considering all the budget cuts.
He added instead of making the decision themselves, he’d like to see the question go to a referendum or plebiscite.
The item will be referred to staff for further information.
BYLAW ENFORCEMENT WORKING HOURS
A suggestion was made that the city stagger the working hours of bylaw enforcement officers in order to have coverage during periods of highest complaints.
After questioning staff, council discovered this is already being done.
The committee did not support forwarding the suggestion to council.
TICKETING TOWING AND IMPOUNDING
Holding towed vehicles until parking fines and towing charges are paid, or terms are agreed on, is another matter council was already considering.
Stolz, who chairs the finance and audit committee, said a new towing bylaw is in the works and will come before council soon.
ENFORCE ON-STREET PAID PARKING
Parking bans that support snow removal and allow the city to remove vehicles or ticket them seemed the next step for council, which has been working to educate the public on the issue for a number of years.
“It’s a safety issue as well,” Krause said, adding his support for forwarding the idea to council.
Skakun wondered if there is a policy in place that isn’t being enforced. Staff told him in the 90’s there was a policy in place that was followed aggressively, however clearer direction now would be helpful.
The committee will forward the suggestion to council.
The committee discussed the suggestion that a cost reduction might be found by pursuing outsourcing for bylaw enforcement.
“I don’t support this philosophically, and consequently will be voting not,” Krause said.
Frizzell said he would vote no as well, but for a different reason. He said the business case just isn’t compelling. He added the suggestion doesn’t even take a market based approach.
Everitt said he believes there is an agreement in place and it should be honoured, and added he agreed with Frizzell’s assessment of the business case the suggestion makes.
“I just heard unanimously that a seven per cent tax hike is unacceptable,” Stolz said, adding he has also heard a lot of concern expressed about the loss of the permissive tax exemption.
He said, since council is looking at re-introducing on-street parking, it might want to look at opportunities around a private operator who might finance such a venture.
“It’s not wise for council to take a position that it’s not supporting outsourcing at all,” Wilbur said.
Frizzell, Everitt, Hall and Skakun opposed pursuing the idea further, while the remainder of council supported it.
THIRD PARTY OPERATOR - FOUR SEASONS POOL
“I don’t believe we could get better cheaper service,” Krause said.
Skakun said he was concerned bringing in a third party operator would equate the city losing control of the facility.
“Pools are money losers,” Frizzell pointed out, adding whoever took it over would ask for a subsidy.
He said it wasn’t worth the time to ask staff to pursue it because there was no chance for success.
Wilbur pointed out there is between a quarter to half a million saving opportunity. He pointed out the YMCA might have an interest.
Hall said he supported the concept and would like to see more information.
“Why not explore this thing?” Coun. Albert Koehler said.
“Pools were never designed to be profitable,” Everitt pointed out. “They are part of the service to the community.”
His concern was about the age of the structure and he wondered if there was an opportunity to partner with the regional district for a new pool.
Stolz said a contract could exist between the city and the operator stating the level of service the city requires.
“We need to find savings somewhere?” he said.
The suggestion will be forwarded to council, with Councillors Krause, Everitt, Skakun and Frizzell opposed.
THIRD PARTY OPERATOR - CIVIC CENTRE
The committee then discussed the opportunity to engage a third party operator with the Civic Centre.
Everitt pointed out the Civic Centre, along with several other municipal buildings, was never intended to pay its own way, and was built for the community. His preference, he said, was to sell raw land.
“Is there an opportunity to subsidize less?” Green asked, adding she supports looking further into the suggestion.
“If we are not prepared to know a bit more than we are just sticking our head in the sand,” Koehler said.
The committee forwarded the suggestion to council with Kraus, Skakun and Frizzell opposed about pursuing it further.
9-1-1 AND FIRE DISPATCH, INCREMENTAL FEES AND REVENUES AND EMS DISPATCH
“This is an absolute win,” Stolz said, adding the suggestions offered a chance to form partnerships, reduce costs and earn additional revenue.
The committee forwarded the first two recommendations to council but not the third, revolving around EMS dispatch.
“Hell will freeze over before we succeed with that,” Wilbur said. “There’s no chance. It’s a waste of time.”
SNOW AND ICE REMOVAL AT CITY FACILITIES
“There’s a perception we’re looking out for ourselves first,” Green said.
“How much ink and time do we want to put into this? Skakun asked adding the monetary value of the saving was low.
“I agree with Brian,” Stolz said. “There is not enough money to worry about, and there it the liability issue.”
Since there was no motion, the suggestion died at the table.
FEE FOR EXTRA GARBAGE
Wilbur said he supported the idea with reservations, wondering if allowing more trash would increase the amount of litter or if would lead to fewer people recycling.
Frizzell said bears have to be considered as well.
The committee supported forwarding the suggestion to council.
All of the suggestions the committee of a whole voted worthy of pursuing will be discussed again at the Dec. 3 council meeting.