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Examining the How

Brad Field

There’s much talk these days about starting with the “why.” While I’m not going to question Simon Sinek or his successful strategy, I think we need to examine the “how” far more regularly. Specifically, when it comes to city hall, the municipal budget and the impending cuts.

Emergency service, transit service and affordable housing are on the chopping block as this city council has voted on spending cuts to right the ship. City administration claims that making $60M in cuts is hard. We all have to make hard choices in our businesses. Hard decisions impact real people in real ways. It is hard to cut $60 million but doing it on the back of vulnerable citizens is polarizing and tone-deaf to what the community wants.

Instead of griping about how hard it is, council needs to dig deep and find structural, long-term solutions. How you ask? How should we right the ship? Well, let’s talk links. We could sell or lease the city-owned golf courses to private-sector operators. Our city golf courses continue to be loss-leaders, except for one. This isn’t a line of business the city needs to be in. Private-sector operators can operate city courses for the same costs, if not less. If it comes down to affordable golf or affordable housing, this is a no-brainer.

Let’s say council doesn’t like that practical solution, how else can we cut cash and not put the burden on citizens?

The ever-contentious waste-management argument also comes to my mind. It’s time to seek private-sector bids on garbage, recycling and compost collection. We know there are private companies that already operate effectively and efficiently throughout Calgary. If they can do it more economically than a city-owned fleet, then contract it out.

When things get tight, governments frequently turn to the hiring freeze. It’s obviously not ideal for Calgarians to lose jobs, but there is the ability to redeploy our human resources and find needed efficiencies. Perhaps it’s time for competitive analysis on salaries and pensions for city employees to seek savings if, as many analysts have suggested, we are overpaying. I find myself asking the question “why do Calgarians pay $100 for something that should only cost $50?” far more often than I’d like to. Given the significant increase in the number of city employees in recent years, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we have several resources to redeploy. This doesn’t even begin to crack the lid on the use of consultants or inflated pensions when it comes to human resources. I could write an entire column on that topic alone.

When it comes to budget management, the “how” isn’t always the easiest part. However, it’s integral in 2019 that we look at innovative ways to manage our coffers. Innovation doesn’t look like handing the job of identifying possible budget cuts to administration. Sadly, this council is failing to do the job we elected them for – to make the big, strategic decisions and ask the difficult questions.