Core review update highlights revenue potential for City of Nanaimo

NANAIMO – Early findings from consultant presented during open meeting Wednesday.

The City of Nanaimo is fiscally prudent, but there are opportunities to increase revenue and save costs, according initial findings of a core services review.

Joyce Tustian, project lead with Western Management Consultants, presented early findings and general themes from Nanaimo’s core services review during an open committee meeting Wednesday.

No specific recommendations were made in the public portion of the meeting and the review is not yet complete, but a final report is expected May 13.

The core review began last December to provide information on the delivery and financing of city services, efficiencies, savings and improvements.

Tustian told city councillors Nanaimo is fiscally prudent and most services are well provided.

The city’s debt is significantly lower than municipalities like Prince George and Kamloops, but the city also sees lower-than-average revenue and its fees and charges are the lowest among benchmark communities.

While Tustian didn’t make any specific recommendations, she highlighted opportunities for cost savings, such as the city’s buildings, and increased revenue, such as higher fees and changing the nature of use, like using a facility for something different.

Tustian also said it’s become clear that Nanaimo needs a council-owned vision and strategic plan which allows staff members guidelines when making decisions on day-to-day items and the organization lacks a strong corporate structure, controls and measures – not uncommon in municipalities.

It means, for example, if there are initiatives council wants to drive corporately, like around idling city vehicles, there are no structures, controls or measures to help it do that. It relies on managers to buy in.

There’s also the need for strengthened relationships with unions and external stakeholders, such as the economic development corporation, Nanaimo Port Authority and the public.

“Relationships are a big deal and you need to do it and you need to pay attention to it,” Tustian told councillors.

The local branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees is participating in the review, but it’s also been involved in radio advertisements to inform people about the importance of services.

Blaine Gurrie, president of CUPE Local 401 said in an interview with the News Bulletin a few weeks ago, there are negative connotations around core reviews for people who work in municipalities. The union doesn’t believe this one will suggest to cut everything, but at the end of the day, Gurrie said it might.

“A lot of the ones in the past have been basically templates that have been moved to community to community to community saying things like, ‘you should cut your permissive tax exemptions’ and ‘drop your recreational services.’ They’ve been pretty much standardized,” he said. “We are hoping this one is different, but you never know.”

The worry is the fact consultants are paid to point out ways to save, but community wishes and what society they want to live in is not taken into account, according to Gurrie.

“It takes into account usually just fiscal considerations, which are important but they are not the only thing that should drive the debate,” he said.