City council ate a big slice of humble pie this week.
The City of Victoria will no longer strive to be “world class.” Instead, councillors debated adopting a more “humble” mission statement, bandying about alternative words such as affordable and sustainable.
Tuesday’s debate was part of the first of four strategic planning sessions.
Eventually, council hopes to whittle down its list to a few areas it will focus on to the exclusion of others throughout its three-year term.
For starters, however, council went back to the basics with a high-level discussion about values.
A mission statement doesn’t elicit the same level of controversy as the debate between, say, funding housing for the homeless versus parks, but in this case the wording choice foreshadows pragmatic times to come.
Council’s priorities promises to read as much like a wish list as a “can live without” list.
“The reality is with finite resources, every ‘yes’ is a ‘no’ to something else,” said Jerry Berry, a consultant who guided Tuesday’s meeting.
City finance director Brenda Warner drove the point home with a sobering look at the years to come.
“A review of the services the city provides may well be needed at this point in time, to ensure adequate funding for our core, or foundation services and infrastructure is available,” she said.
Over the next six years, Warner estimated, there will be a need to find $12 million in cuts.
With those words ringing in council members’ ears, they turned their attention to the mission statement.
“I’d just like to consider throwing out the world-class,” said Coun. Shellie Gudgeon. “I think we could find another word … We need to be humble.”
Gudgeon’s suggestion resonated with her colleagues.
“I was never comfortable with terms like world-class,” said Coun. Pam Madoff. “I don’t like asserting a competitive tone.”
City reviews services with eye to cut $12 million
Recently, city council agreed to drop this year’s property tax increase down to 3.25 per cent. It also agreed to hold future increases at this level.
On Tuesday, city finance director Brenda Warner commended the decision, but also outlined the consequences.
“The operating budget must be reduced by an estimated $6 million over the next four years,” she said.
A review of the past six years has found that “on average, $1.5 million of unanticipated costs are added to the budget each year,” Warner said. “If we assume this trend will continue, that means there could be a potential (for an additional) $6 million in cuts.”
Such cuts must be ongoing and permanent, rather than one-time only, she said.
To help achieve that goal, the city will review three problematic areas: Crystal Garden, now part of the Victoria Conference Centre; Crystal Pool and downtown parking.
“The subsidy to Crystal Garden is increasing … the budgeted revenue for parking is down by $500,000,” said Warner.
And Crystal Pool, which receives a $1.2-million annual subsidy, is also in need of a facility upgrade, she added.