City-funded groups face greater financial scrutiny

'What we saw was better prioritization of projects. We also don't bite off more than we can chew'

Mike Youds / Kamloops Daily News
November 6, 2012 01:00 AM

In search of new budget efficiencies, City council is leaving no stone unturned, including grants distributed annually to not-for-profit organizations.

Council and City staff assembled on Tuesday for a public workshop to discuss "corporate financial initiatives" driven in part by the efficiency mantra: Value for money.

The idea is to begin 2013 budget planning earlier to enable greater public input - a complaint heard with last year's budget process - although the public was nowhere in sight on Tuesday.

The City adopted zero-based budgeting for capital costs two years ago as part of its spending-efficiency quest. Zero-based budgeting is the practice of reviewing all budget line items, the baseline costs as well as the variances. Traditionally, budgeting examined only variances while rolling over baseline expenditures.

"What we saw was better prioritization of projects," said David Trawin, chief administrative officer. "We also don't bite off more than we can chew."

He pointed to a three-per-cent cost savings found with managing projects in-house rather than contracting; energy savings on 17 City projects; and reviewing all management positions as they come vacant. Combined, the estimated savings amount to $1.9 million on $38 million in expenses, staving off a possible two per cent tax increase.

"In my mind, some of this is the low-hanging fruit," Trawin said.

Coun. Nelly Dever asked if "highly subsidized" groups, such as Venture Kamloops, Tourism Kamloops, ASK Wellness and Kamloops Art Gallery, can be expected to similarly find efficiencies.

Mayor Peter Milobar said that funded organizations are already reviewed every three years.

"I would be very hesitant to go too aggressively with this," Milobar said. City groups have been held to a two-per-cent increase in recent years, he noted.

"If you're not really serious about cuts, it will cause a lot of unrest among groups that are always under pressure with government funding."

Coun. Ken Christian, a member of the service review committee that already vets such funding, was cautious as well.

"It's no slam-dunk when you go there," he said, referring to local not-for-profits. "I think there is good value for money from what I've seen in over a year of looking at them."

He added that the City might, however, be able to assist groups in identifying efficiencies: "Cleaning it up so we're getting better bang for our buck."

Milobar concluded that the majority of council favours reviewing grant recipients every few years.

Other ideas tossed around included: joint-purchase agreements with neighbouring municipalities or the school district; eliminating reserve funds; an asset-management plan to track facility maintenance demands; and minimizing debt to avoid interest charges.

Coun. Donovan Cavers suggested a follow-up session to obtain public input on efficiencies.

The City's provisional budget - the next step in the process - goes before council on Dec. 11.

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