Costs of being a councillor reflected with increases
City of Red Deer’s budget recommends council boost its own compensation for things like meals and workshops by almost $31,000 after year-end bills came in well over estimates.
Budget forecasts project council will have spent $18,980 on meals last year, double the $9,162 set aside in the budget. Likewise, compensation for attending workshops is expected to hit $11,650, more than triple the $3,868 included in the 2011 budget.
The amount spent on event registration ($13,655 compared against a budget of $9,444) and Internet and cellphone compensation ($10,979 compared with $$7,482) are also out of whack.
Elaine Vincent, the city’s legislative and governance services manager, recommended all four budgets be boosted in 2012 by $30,819 during a presentation to council during the first day of budget talks on Tuesday.
Vincent said the budget adjustment will better reflect the amount of work council is doing.
“Council’s role has increased significantly. Their involvement in city operations and their commitments in the community have increased,” she said.
However, council’s operations budget has not increased in a number of years.
“This really reflects what they are actually spending to meet their commitments in the community.”
Adding to the accounting shortfall, was council’s decision last year to slash its budget by $10,000.
“When they made the decision to cut they increased their activity at the same time,” she said. “So it just caused a collision point.”
If council rejects the increase to keep the budget as is Vincent’s department will “manage their commitments and their attendance accordingly.”
Also recommended by the department is an additional $18,144 to cover the expenses of councillors sitting on outside boards and committees.
Councillor Paul Harris was elected to a one-year term on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ national board of directors in June of last year. In the same month, Councillor Dianne Wyntjes was elected to the board of directors for the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance and Councillor Tara Veer sits on the Inter-City Forum on Social Policy.
The legislative and governance services department’s base budget is $2.6 million, up from $2.2 million in 2011.
Plans for city’s Centennial celebration
City council should set aside $40,000 to host a City of Red Deer centennial celebration, recommends the 2012 budget.
Council has already approved $250,000 over two years for the community’s non-profit Centennial Committee. The money will be used to plan various activities throughout the city during the special 100th birthday. Celebrations include a number of events including a main attraction and a closing event.
The additional $40,000 will be used for an event hosted specifically by the city, said Julia Harvie-Shemko, the city’s communications and strategic planning manager. A communications campaign to advertise the centennial will also be organized.
The city is looking at doing something on March 25, the anniversary of the day the city was incorporated. But city officials don’t want to overlap events organized by the committee and that plan may change.
Also requested by the communications department is $116,690 over two years for what is being called a dialogue charter.
Harvie-Shemko said the charter is aimed at finding ways for the city to become more effective in engaging with the public and others. The goal is also to improve the city’s advocacy with other levels of government.
An identity charter has also been proposed at a cost of $85,000 over two years.
“It’s very new and it’s a direction from council to figure out what Red Deer’s identity really is and let’s start talking about that, telling that story,” she said.
Also requested is:
• $10,580 for an Ipsos Reid Municipal Sustainability and Financial Planning survey
• $24,200 to undertake a public communications highlighting the city’s strategic plan and budget
Legal savings, legal expenses
The City of Red Deer will save $40,000 by dropping a requirement that the city’s solicitor sit in on all council meetings, says the 2012 budget.
“From a value for money perspective, it would be a better expenditure of funds to table any issues where legal input is needed rather than (pay the) high costs of having a solicitor attend all meetings,” says a budget recommendation to council from the legislative and governance services department.
The solicitor would still be brought in when required, says the recommendation.
Not having the solicitor there all the time might also have another benefit in that the lawyer is sometimes found in the position of unexpectedly having to respond to issues without time to review the legal implications.
Unfortunately, the legal savings could be offset by an additional $40,000 in legal costs associated with the city’s regulation of secondary suites.
Elaine Vincent, legislative and governance services manager, said the city may have to shut down about 100 illegal secondary suites this year.
The city needs to ensure that secondary suites not approved by the municipal planning commission are closed. Also, monitoring and enforcement will be needed when reports of illegal suites come in.
The department is also recommending saving $140,000 by not doing a municipal census this year.
Since growth is expected to be less than two per cent, the survey is not cost-effective. One of the main reasons the census is done is to ensure that the city receives the full amount of per capita provincial grants. But with low growth forecast, those grants are not expected to go up much.
Also requested by the department is $84,873 to fund an appeals co-ordinator position. The job of the co-ordinator is to oversee the city’s subdivision and development appeal board, the Red Deer Appeal and Review Board and the Regional Assessment Review Board.
Red Deer’s city manager is recommending spending $90,000 in the 2012 budget to improve the way municipal performance is measured.
Craig Curtis says in a budget presentation document that the city started compiling performance measures and benchmarking initiatives in the 1990s, but later abandoned the project.
“The city is behind many other municipalities in terms of being able to accurately measure its performance,” he says.
Besides helping with decision making, the Internal Charter would also renew the city’s quarterly and annual reporting system and design a budget that matches outcomes with resources.
The charter could also look at the effectiveness of adopting a three-year budget as some municipalities have.
Aboriginal employment plan kept
Red Deer’s budget recommends $120,000 be spent over two years keeping an aboriginal employment program going. The money would provide six months of job training for a dozen aboriginal candidates.
Marge Wray, the city’s human resources manager, said the provincial government will match the city’s contribution to the program, which has already proven a success.
The initiative was begun several years ago and after a slow start there are now six candidates employed full-time with the city. Others have found work elsewhere.
Also requested is $35,000 to develop a new system to provide effective performance feedback for employees. A workplace Climate Survey undertaken by the city showed workers wanted more feedback from supervisors.
Wray said the money will be used to provide additional training and coaching skills for supervisors.
— copyright Red Deer Advocate