Victoria council is clear that cutting the city’s operational budget is its top priority. The question is how to get there.
For the answer, council is looking to expert advice from outside the organization.
In a closed meeting June 28, council approved spending up to $75,000 on a ‘service delivery and organizational review.’ This week, the city posted a request for proposals, which closes Aug. 2.
“It’s a question of ‘(is there a way) to do these services more efficiently?'” said Mayor Dean Fortin. “It’s also about taking a look and saying ‘should we be doing these services?'”
The review also includes an evaluation of contracted services.
Its mandate bears some similarities to an internal position that was recently terminated.
In March 2010, the city hired Wael (Bill) Fanous as its first director of internal audit and risk management.
“KMPG, our external auditors, had recommended that the city have a position as an internal audit,” said Trina Harrison, Victoria’s director of human resources. “It’s to bolster our internal accountability.”
In 2011, Fanous earned $172,000 in salary and benefits, but he quit his job in December.
The city took the opportunity to re-evaluate the position. As a way to save money, it decided to split up Fanous’ former duties.
Soon, the city will post a unionized position with a lower salary to handle risk management and insurance claims. It has no plans, however, to replace Fanous’ internal audit responsibilities. These include “performance outcomes, organizational development priorities, and policy and resource allocation decisions,” according to the job description from 2010.
Harrison said these duties have been absorbed by the finance department. Still, Coun. Lisa Helps argues that leaving the position unfilled could be a mistake.
“If the number one priority is reducing the operating budget, one of the mechanisms to do that might be to say ‘hey, actually we do need to fill this position … to see what we’re doing internally that could result in savings,'” she said.
Bruce Carter brings a different perspective.
The CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce questions whether expert advice will make a difference, whether it comes from an outside consultant or a staff position.
An internal auditor is challenged by having a perspective that is limited by being on the inside, he said.
“I have little faith that internal auditing in the municipal realm is going to find the savings at the level that we need to find them,” Carter said. “We’re at the stage where any more money spent on senior staff salaries at the City of Victoria is too much money.”
At the same time, he questioned whether the consultant’s review will be able to accomplish more.
“Are we about to spend a whole lot of money on a report that may have some very good recommendations that there is no way council will ever implement?”
Council needs the “intestinal fortitude” to make the hard decisions, he said.
Coun. Geoff Young also points to the political realm as a stumbling block.
“With regard to the idea of ‘improving efficiency’ or finding better ways to do things, the problem is simply that the city is so small that almost every decision becomes a political decision,” Young wrote in an email to the News.
“Whether it is our grants to organizations (or) the way we collect garbage … It is tough for staff to suggest clear savings proposals that will not ignite political discussion.”