The City has many opportunities for more efficient and economical operations making our great City even greater. Set forth below is a listing of suggestions from the Association. From time to time, the Association will add other opportunities for improvement or identify successes.
1. ADOPT WELL-ACCEPTED BUSINESS PRACTICES TO BETTER MANAGE TAXPAYER DOLLARS
The City should consider adopting well-accepted business practices for more efficient and economical use of taxpayer monies.
Regular Zero Based Reviews
One example would be for the City to engage the services of an independent internal auditor and undertake Zero Based Review (“ZBR”) of all City business units. A ZBR would reverse the historical budgeting processes of our City. In its traditional incremental budgeting processes, City departmental managers justify only variances versus past years, based on the assumption that the “baseline” is automatically approved. By contrast, in zero-based budgeting, every line item of the budget must be approved, rather than only changes. Zero-based budgeting requires the budget request be re-evaluated thoroughly, starting from the zero-base. This process is independent of whether the total budget or specific line items are increasing or decreasing.
To our knowledge, the City has never undertaken a ZBR. Other municipalities, such as the City of Calgary, are now applying the ZBR into its budgeting processes.
In respect of a ZBR, we make the following suggestions to the City.
- First and foremost, the City should make the important decision to conduct a long overdue ZBR of its business units, and do so at the beginning of every four-year election cyle;
- The ZBR should be overseen by an experienced, independent internal auditor who will unimpeded by any actual or perceived conflicts of interest (accordingly the auditor should be hired and engaged by City Council and report its findings to City Council because the City (or parts thereof) may have actual or perceived conflict of interest to maintain the status quo);
- The ZBR should be applied to all business units in the City, including police and fire;
- The ZBR should consider whether City services provided by a business unit could be more efficiently provided by another City business unit or by the private sector;
- The ZBR process should consider whether there are opportunities for cross – departmental savings across business units; and
- The ZBR final reports should be made available on the City website to engage the public to increase transparency and accountability.
In prior City Council requests for tax savings, City administrators have made disingenuous suggestions such as closing recreational facilities on statutory holidays (when demand is highest) or decreasing mosquito controls for the public during our short summer months. We should expect more than superficial suggestions which inconvenience or punish the broader community. There are more meaningful and substantial gains available from confronting structural inefficiencies in our City’s operations and bureaucracies. A ZBR can help identify those savings opportunities.
Not included in the City’s balance sheet liabilities, is the off-balance sheet pension liabilities of the City for defined benefit plans. The City is a member of the Local Authorities Pension Plan (LAPP). In its 2012 financial statements, the LAPP reported an actuarial deficiency of $4.977 billion. When asked, the City was not able to provide us with an estimate of how much this liability belongs to the City for its past and present employees!
Private sector businesses have migrated from defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution pension plans to avoid open ended liabilities to shareholders. Likewise, we invite the City to migrate from defined benefit plans on a “go-forward” basis to defined contribution plans to avoid increasing open-ended liabilities to the taxpayers they are mandated to serve.
2. USER-PAY MECHANISMS
The City should undertake shifting of appropriate costs away from the general tax levy toward more user-pay mechanisms that strengthen the connection between services used and costs paid. This reduces inappropriate increases in the demand for public services that might otherwise arise as a result of over subsidization.
For example, we support the City’s efforts to shift a greater portion of its utility costs on higher consumers of the City’s water and power resources. This promotes more responsible use of valuable resources.
3. IMPROVE TAX COMPETITIVENESS
The City needs to attract businesses and successfully compete with nearby jurisdictions which may piggyback on services in our City and yet offer a lower tax environment to businesses and residents.
For example, businesses have, and will, locate in Gasoline Alley if business property tax rates are substantially lower in the County than in the City.
4. FOCUS SPENDING ON THE BROADER COMMUNITY AND NOT ON SPECIAL INTERESTS
As discussed in our Issues, the City constructed the Civic Yards in 2009 at a cost of more than $116 million, with borrowing of more than $85 million.
The Association is concerned about such large expenditures which do not provide direct improvements to the quality of life of the broader community.
Contrast this extravagant spending for the Civic Yards with the cost of the Collicutt Centre, providing direct improvements to the quality of life of the broader community, built for a cost of less than $33 million in 2001.