Living Within Our Means: The City Budget
August 30, 2017
When I meet with residents in Ward 11, the single most common issue that I hear at the door is the rate at which city taxes and fees for Calgarians continue to rise. As a candidate, one of the key items on my mind is making sure City Hall and administration, ‘lives within our means’.
I believe that the incoming council, needs to focus on making sure we are providing the services Calgarians require, while also taking an honest look at city finances and improve delivery and efficiency of those services. As councillor, I would champion and work with administration to make sure that we are looking at a 0% tax increase for property owners within the city and challenge administration at all levels to find innovative solutions and areas of improvement.
- Spending at City Hall continues to increase at levels higher than inflation. The City of Calgary total budgets outlined in the 2015-2018 Action Plan have an Operating budget of $3.69 B (2017) and a Capital program of $7.6 B (2015-2019).
- Even though Calgary was hit dramatically by the economic downturn in 2014, and many large and small businesses in the city were forced to the adjust their own budgets and salaries, the number of full time employees at City Hall has increased.
- While Calgary’s population has continued to grow since 2014, the cost of service delivery per capita has far exceeded inflation and the cost difference has been burdened by taxpayers.
- Incorporate Financial Metrics in Performance Measures for City Departments – The City uses a Strategic Planning strategy which identifies high level priorities at the Council level and City Departments generating performance measures from the those priorities. Based on The City of Calgary Action Plan (2015-2018), of the 286 performance measures for the various departments, only 33 have a financial component. As these performance measures are used to determine the success and improvement requirements of departments, there should be a fiscal element for these decisions.
- Expand the Independence of the City Auditor’s Office from City Administration – The role of the City Auditor is to provide City Council with objective assurance and insight on the effectiveness and efficiency of governance, risk management and internal control processes. This role needs to be expanded to include providing City Council the tools to provide informed governance on financial issues such as the City Budget.
- Create a Culture of Change & Innovation – Creating a space for innovation and promoting a culture of change is critical. When I talk with employees at the city, both current and former employees feel there is room for change. Encouraging collaborative conversations between leadership and front-line staff will provide opportunities to create efficiencies and streamline city processes.
- Reform Reporting Formats – The role of municipal reports should be to provide facts and information to Calgarians. Yet presently our city markets it’s budget report to justify the spending of administration rather than an impartial report to citizens and taxpayers. A budget document should not convince the reader that the spending is justified, it should present the facts through an unbiased lens. We should instead have a budget report to citizens from the city auditor that provides information based analysis to Calgarians.
- Adopting an Agile System for Business Planning – The City utilizes long-term strategic plans (Imagine Calgary, Municipal Development Plan, Calgary Transportation Plan) to inform the departments of the overarching business plan and therefore the budgets. The current system has 4 year Business Plans that do not align with the rate at which our world and society is changing. A more agile system must be adopted, which allows the City to be more responsive to:
- Societal Changes
- Economic Volatility
- New Technologies
- Using Full-Time Employees or Contracting The Project – For City Administration, there are projects and tasks where honest questions need to be asked on resources; is this a job for employees or contractors. There are many examples within the City where contract employees would be a better option (ie. Design Services, Sign Shop, Fleet Maintenance, Engineering, etc.,). The City needs to have a strategy at evaluating when a service should be provided through a fixed expense or when it is more cost effective to take a variable approach.