City priority-setting process inching along

Victoria’s planning department likely facing a busy couple of years ahead

More than seven months into their three-year term in office, city councillors are still whittling down the list of priorities that will guide city resources through 2014.

The delay has hamstrung city staff, who don’t know how to proceed in the meantime, Coun. Lisa Helps said.

“It’s a brutal way to run an organization.”

For instance, when staff came forward with a draft naming-rights policy last week, council debated at length whether to proceed before its priorities are set.

It’s not the only example of staff proceeding on initiatives that could theoretically be crossed off council’s priority list, and tossed to the trash.

Last week, the city sent out a request for proposals to conduct a review of the city’s organization and its services. Council has strongly supported the idea so far, but that may change, depending on cost.

In the coming weeks, staff will price out council’s top 16 priorities – as previously selected through a vote.

Council will narrow down the list further once they know the rough price tag of each item.

“We’ll pick what we can afford,” Coun. Shellie Gudgeon said. That could prove to be not very much, as council’s number one priority on the draft list is a budget-reduction strategy.  “We don’t have any money,” she said. “Some very, very difficult decisions need to be made.”

Also on council’s draft priority list is another budget-related item: generating city revenue.

Gudgeon, however, cautions that it takes staff time to generate revenue, which in turn presents a cost to the city. “Then the decision has to be made: is it worth it?”

Other top priorities include developing plans for the waterfront, Rock Bay and  the Douglas Street corridor. The heavy focus on planning may prove too taxing for one department.

“That’s all impossible for the planning department to do,” Helps said.

Priority setting is a procedure done by each newly-elected council. The finalized priority list is intended to focus city resources, in terms of funding and staff time, on a few key initiatives.

One item that didn’t make the priority list is public engagement on Crystal Pool – a facility nearing the end of its serviceable life.

Helps found it “flabbergasting” that a majority of her colleagues didn’t vote for this initiative.

“We have this giant white elephant that’s sucking at least $1.2-million (in its) annual operating budget,” she said.

Required in the near future will be a decision to either replace or overhaul the aging facility.

“If we, as a council, don’t care enough to ask the public ‘what do you want?’ then our only option is to close the pool down,” she said.

rholmen@vicnews.com

The top six

Proposed city initiatives receiving at least seven of nine council votes:

1. Develop a budget reduction strategy

2. Conduct a service and organizational review

3. Examine public transportation options

4. Determine approach for waterfront local area plan

5. Conduct local area planning for Rock Bay

6. Enhance business process, such as permits and inspections

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