In late January, the City of Red Deer completed its 2024 Operational and Capital Budget deliberations. Through the three days of discussions, it was clear that the City has been struggling to balance revenues with operational expenses over the last two years. There are many reasons for this.
The rationale outlined by city administration included: post-pandemic impacts, inflation, reductions in grants from other levels of government, and increases in expenses that are beyond the City’s control. The Red Deer Chamber of Commerce was disappointed to see minimal reductions in overall spending within the 2024 City budget and the decision to increase taxes and utility costs for our business community. There is considerable work to evaluate the sustainability of operations in a way that best serves the community. Innovation, outsourcing, and service prioritization will have to be a bigger part of future planning.
We support the decision the City of Red Deer has made to engage in a Financial Management and Financial Governance Maturity Review and to develop a new City Growth Strategy. These proposals intend to address financial sustainability, review levels of service, consider revenue enhancement measures and reserve use, and consider the 10-year Capital Plan, while identifying growth opportunities. This is a positive step in the right direction. The Chamber recommends the following actions to support the City’s plans: to encourage the use of meaningful consultation and community guidance during its budget processes; that the City engage an outside consultant to perform this full review of operations; that the City look for opportunities for private-sector service delivery where possible; and that the City commit to the growth of the region through a new approach to Economic Development.
We have concerns about recent City budgets containing a lack of meaningful review around services and costs. It is clear from the results of the public consultation that most respondents support decreases in service levels and financial restraint. We look forward to the June 1, 2024, report debriefing the budget process and the development of an improved budget model. We are hopeful that future budget processes will center around meaningful consultation and provide adequate time and opportunity for real change.
The current approach of transparency and long-term forecasting is the best way to move our community forward. It should come as no surprise that the Chamber values the expertise and passion in the private sector. Businesses commonly hire consultants to support management planning in times of economic decline and during changes in the market. Other municipalities have enlisted outside help to aid in providing metrics and deliverables to develop operational improvements and long-term planning. The City should consider the same opportunity to help guide them into the future and to use industry capability effectively.
A thorough review will present options and the Chamber enthusiastically supports investment in our local economy. The City should continue operation in areas where it is the most cost- effective and efficient provider. The budget process should be an opportunity not only to review the financial health of the municipality but also to guide strategic changes in operation as
required. Just as businesses in Red Deer must adjust their operations due to reductions in revenue, the City must critically review the budget process and incentivization of cost reduction and innovative delivery solutions. We look forward to working with the City to improve our community’s business environment and ensure future economic growth and development.
Scott Robinson is the CEO Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce.