Red Deer city council got the ball rolling on an external audit of the city’s recreation, parks and culture department, reasoning it could help discover new revenue sources for tax-subsidized programs and services. (Advocate file photo).

Red Deer city council funds external review to make parks and rec programs more sustainable

Many programs are losing money and must be subsidized

Whether to spend money to save money was the question debated by Red Deer city council on Day 2 of the budget process.

A $150,000 value-for-money audit for the mayor’s and city manager’s offices and corporate services department was on the books for 2020.

Another $150,000 was slated for a similar external audit of the recreation, parks and culture department.

Since the economy hasn’t improved, several councillors questioned the wisdom Wednesday of spending $300,000 on consultants’ audits this year — even though they could potentially turn up some cost savings and efficiencies.

Coun. Lawrence Lee suggested delaying these for another year or more.

Red Deer has a new city manager who has been reviewing spending with a fresh perspective, said Lee.

As well, city council is rigorously questioning spending priorities through this 2020 operating budget process, he added, noting nothing would be imperiled if these external spending audits were skipped.

Most other councillors also called into question the timing of this spending.

But Coun. Michael Dawe opposed pushing back the audits, saying he was on the Red Deer hospital board in the late 1970s when a tight economy required cutting about 20 per cent of the budget.

Many decisions were made then without knowledge of how they would impact the hospital down the road, he said — and Dawe feels the health care facility is still feeling some of the effects.

Dawe noted the recreation, parks and culture department is one of the largest and most impactful on the community, so independently auditing its finances is important.

Coun. Tanya Handley agreed, saying the value-for-money audit could help maximize revenues from a revamped Discovery Canyon and other city attractions.

Coun. Ken Johnston previously supported doing an external audit for recreation, parks and culture, but changed his mind on Wednesday, saying the present economy calls for “stringent” spending in the short as well as long term.

Coun. Buck Buchanan felt these audits were too costly for what could be a couple of recommendations from consultants.

Council opted to save $150,000 by delaying the corporate services audit.

But they accepted Mayor Tara Veer’s rationalization that the parks, recreation and culture audit was badly needed.

So many of the department’s services are now subsidized at a cost to taxpayers that it’s vital to try to figure out how to make these more self-sustaining, said Veer.

She felt an audit could uncover some culture grants and other revenue sources or generators. Killing it would “forfeit“ a chance to address systemic issues, Veer added.

Council approved Veer’s recommendation to spend $50,000 for the recreation, parks and culture audit in the third quarter of 2020 — and then move $100,000 to 2021.

This realizes a $100,000 budget savings this year.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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