Friday, December 03, 2010

Council reviews city services for possible cuts(as publcished in the Daily Gleaner, Deceomber 03/10)

Fredericton's finance committee chairman says councillors are viewing a core and non-core services review as a reset of the city's general fund budget.

Not unlike a homeowner who has to periodically sit down and look at what services he or she purchases to keep their home running and adjust any extras that have crept into their household budget, Coun. Mike O'Brien said, the city has been engaged this week in sitting down and looking at the services it really needs to provide to the public and tighten the belt in areas that may be nice-to-haves but not necessarily need-to-haves.

It's not, O'Brien said, that the city is in a financial crisis, but councillors want to hold the line on taxes for 2011. "We're working as hard as we can to deliver a budget with no tax increases. We also have to prepare for the next few years," O'Brien said.

The finance committee chairman said council is also trying to position the budget for 2012 and 2013 when the provincial government plans to impose taxation freezes and ceilings that will affect property tax revenues available to the city.

The city's major capital construction projects are winding down and the money the city has borrowed for the projects costs three per cent of less interest, so the long-term financing is manageable.

Compared with other cities, Fredericton is in an enviable financial situation, but it has to keep and eye on the future, O'Brien said. Beyond any tax changes on the provincial front, O'Brien said, Fredericton's red-hot construction bubble is going to wane and the city has adjusted its outlook for future construction growth to more typical year over year growth ratios.

Instead of the six and even seven per cent growth rates annually in development, Fredericton is adjusting its forecast to expect 2.5 per cent more in new construction in 2012, two per cent in 2013, 1.7 per cent in 2014 and 1.5 per cent in 2015.

Two closed-door sessions have been held on the core-services review, mainly because councillors needed to be free to talk about personnel issues.

O'Brien has outlined how the city is tackling its internal budget review following a process that the provincial Local Government Department uses to conduct service reviews.

"Staff went through all the services that are delivered to residents and even internally," he said. "Within those they did a lengthy detailed process to categorize them into the most important services to the least important."
The criteria included whether the service is legislated and has to be provided by law, if other groups depend on the service, cost implications and policy issues.

The review looked at whether other groups could deliver the service. The services were scored and ranked in terms of relative importance.
"For instance, clean water was ranked as a top priority. So were public-safety issues," O'Brien said.

"We decided to go through every item line by line ... Some implicate staff levels. Others may be that we need less outside help or consulting fees. Some are fairly big ticket items. Some are small."

The process is ongoing and councillors are taking their time sifting through the review, he said. "It's being thoroughly looked at, every item," O'Brien said.

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