Second attempt to push core review through fails

NANAIMO – Vote fails 5-4, majority of council says citizens are content with services received for taxes.

A second attempt to push a core review of city hall, and the services it provides, through city council by Coun. Jim Kipp failed 5-4 Monday, the same result as his initial attempt two years ago.

Kipp argued that with a ballooning budget – Nanaimo’s budget has increased from $143 million two years ago to $171 million for 2013 – the city needs to take a step back and reassess the services it provides and the money it spends on those services.

“We need a benchmark,” said Kipp. “This isn’t about bringing in a right-wing group that will slash and burn our services. It’s about an increasing budget, asset management and having a solid grip on the things that we do and the services we provide.”

The idea of an external core review is to hire an outside consultant at a cost of an estimated $100,000 to $200,000 to assess staff wages and benefits, as well as city services that include everything from core services, like protective services, to discretionary services, like recreation facilities and programs.

Coun. Fred Pattje, who voted against the review, argued that council has spent more than $300,000 in the last 24 months on several reviews, including management structure, management compensation, contracting out policies, and fire response reviews, as well the development of the Corporate Strategic Plan, which ties funding to priorities established by council through an extensive public consultation process.

“We’ve established that the financial situation in Nanaimo is pretty darn good,” said Pattje. “And I view the strategic plan as marching orders from the citizens, and through that discussion I can’t find anywhere where a core review was high on the list of priorities of residents. There is every indication that people are satisfied with the services we provide.”

A survey released in the summer revealed that 90 per cent of Nanaimo residents are content with the services they receive for their taxes. Kipp dismissed the survey as having too small of a sample size.

Coun. Bill Bestwick, who supported the review, said a look from an outside source could help the city find efficiencies.

“There are those who are concerned this is a slash and burn, but that’s not what this is. It’s to ensure our city is sustainable and that we are proactive,” said Bestwick.

Coun. Diane Brennan disagreed, saying the template for core reviews in other B.C. municipalities has been to reduce services, and that external consultants aren’t tapped in to Nanaimo’s pulse.

“Outside consultants don’t know what our city’s needs and wants are,” she said, adding she felt there were other motives by Kipp for the review. “This is a con job and it’s been a con job from the beginning.”

Pattje added that on top of previous reviews, annual budget deliberations are also an opportunity for council and staff to review city finances and services with public input.