Bob Melnyk was a member of the so-called “focus group” consisting of business owners, homeowners and Council members that examined the City’s 2011-2015 Financial Plan. They made some recommendations to Council, which were taken under advisement.
Bob has a few thoughts on the City’s budget that he provided to City Council a few weeks ago. Readers should find them interesting, particularly in light of the May 17 Town Hall Meeting. These are his own personal thoughts and do not represent the thoughts of other focus group members:
The Fire protection budget has increased 66% between 2006-2010. Correspondingly, the RCMP budget has only seen an increase of 24% in the same time frame. The RCMP complement has been static during this period. The Fire Department has continued to grow and now stands at 7 full time firefighting positions. In 2010 there was a budgeted amount of $27,500 for overtime. The actual amount spent was $108,681 which represents more than 1 additional firefighter. The 7th position was filled with the understanding that it was to eliminate a significant amount of the overtime. In reality, this has not occurred.
As per the Fire Chief’s stand that the First Responder Program is costing less than $24,000 per year, does not account for the other $84,000 of this problem. One of the main reasons given was an increase in the number of calls. The RCMP dealt with 4,127 files resulting in 2,210 criminal investigations in 2010 and worked within a budgeted amount of $60,000 for overtime. The Fire Department dealt with 648 incidents and incurred $108,681 in overtime. It would appear that call volume does not explain the disparity but perhaps the type of scheduling presently being used needs to be changed to help reduce these costs.
The Fire Department did not exceed its total budget, but it raises the question of where was the surplus in the budget to accommodate this amount? The costs of this Department continue to skyrocket without apparent justification. There has not been a population increase of any major amount nor has there been a large increase in homes/businesses either. Council needs to have an external audit done to determine what needs to be done. Other communities close by have a much lower Fire Underwriters Survey rating and provide fire protection to their citizens much cheaper. The present system cost is not sustainable and it needs to be resolved before another tax year is upon us.
Park & Recreation.
While this budget has increased 32% between 2006-2010 with the inclusion of staffing requirements for the pool. this puts it within comparison with the 24% RCMP budget increase. here are areas in the outside component that are in need of change. In the organizational chart, the Parks Foreman, Gardeners, Ground Maintenance, and Cemetery personnel fall under the Public Works Operations Managers jurisdiction but are funded by Parks & Recs’ budget. This arrangement was a Bryant Yeoman\Alan Chell deal that has never made sense.
Why involve two Departments, when only one is required, a much more efficient way of doing business. In the summer season virtually all planted areas have been changed to flowers from a majority of shrubs. While the flowers bring a more colorful impact, the costs of maintaining this are very high because of the intensity of labour required. I feel that there can be a balance achieved at a much lower cost. There are large flower tubs added to the Victoria Rd. brick sign base areas that could be eliminated saving both capital cost and labour.
There is a full time arborist during the summer months. While there has been a significant amount of work done, it needs to be considered as to whether or not this activity is affordable in these tight fiscal times. Council needs to consider the ongoing expense (line 363) of new irrigation as well, a potential savings of $30,000/year. The length of season is not long and the un-serviced areas are surviving. While this can be construed as infrastructure, it pales by comparison to other more necessary needs. The Queen Elizabeth pathway (line 371) could be dropped this year, a savings of $12,000. It would make more sense to wait until the school project is completed giving a much better picture of what may be done to complement and enhance Queen Elizabeth Park.
The Public Works budget has increased an astonishing 109% between 2006-2010. This is not far off of the combined totals of Parks & Rec, the Fire Department and the RCMP. In this time frame there has been no appreciable increase in the infrastructure that this Department maintains. There has been a substantial increase in manpower however. This department is in desperate need of an audit of its structure, practices and the number of positions there are. Some examples are:
- Why does the Organizational Chart show 2 positions for a 1-man Waste Collection truck?
- The number of supervisory positions continues to grow and I question what/whom they are actually supervising.
There are large inefficiencies in how some activities are done. Snow removal is the largest.
The process being used is reactive not proactive. Snow removal is a grid-oriented repetitive process. I have been involved in snow removal as an operator, shift foreman and manager of large crews in this activity. In my 25 plus years of doing so, this has involved provincial highways as well as municipal road systems, all within the Revelstoke area. While there is no doubt that this winter was going to cost more, the practices used have lead to large cost overruns. The following in point form are the most costly overruns.
- The problem started with the first snowfall. Graders need to be used to define the edge of the paved surface and use their wing (in a raised 10”-12” position so as not to do unnecessary damage to lawn areas) to push the snow back to maximize snow storage. This was not done consistently.
- The 4th Street snow dump capacity was not maximized. Without this facility any trucks needing to dump when clearing the 4th Street, Edward Street, and Downie Street area have to travel back to the Centennial Park dump. This decreases the production between 25-30% and at a cost in excess of $1,500/ hour for the blower show. This adds up very quickly. Even if there is a need to use a hired excavator to pile the snow, its’ costs will be recouped quickly in increased productivity.
- The over-use of the blower and trucks on streets outside of the normal area that is picked up (mostly resulting from snow not being pushed back properly with graders) costs 6-7 times the cost of normal snow clearing.
- The City has a by-law in regards to sidewalk clearing, but does not enforce it at all. Sidewalk clearing is not tracked independently so its true cost is not readily visible.
- There is an evident lack of supervision of the methods and performance of individual operators municipal and private as well. This results in continuous uncompleted work and poor performance causing areas to have to be repeatedly revisited.
- While statistically true, the $1,700/cm cost that is being used as a gauge of performance of snow removal is deceptive. For every snowfall of a minimal nature that occurs where by the City does little (some minor plowing or sanding) distorts the true cost of major snow events. I do not make this statement to imply that this is being done intentionally, but to show this is not a good gauge of performance.
The levels of service provided are not consistent, to the point in some cases of differing drastically from block to block. I have a large collection of examples (photos) if Council is interested. The area that is normally serviced by the blower and trucks should be paying a frontage surcharge. The cost of this method is at least 6-7 times the cost of conventional snow service. It is not equitable to the rest of the taxpayers to have to subsidize this while enduring a much lesser standard for their respective areas.
The use of Dayton & Knight as Engineering Consultants needs a thorough review. With the exception of the Water Treatment Plant project, each proceeding project has had significant negative issues attached. The following of which are:
- Arrow Heights Reservoir project — The project was designed, overseen and commissioned by Dayton & Knight. It resulted in the need to add an entire pressure-reducing system to feed into Upper Arrow Heights. This issue was a simple case of hydraulic grade line, something that is very basic in the world of water pressure. The City yet again paid more for more design and commissioning which would not have happened if the simple issue would have been addressed during the initial stage. For an Engineering firm this is not an acceptable level of service.
- Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrades, design, oversee, commission project —The second year the concrete in the head works had disintegrated so badly it had to be removed and redone at the Citys’ expense. The previous headworks was over 30 yrs. old and had comparatively little degradation.
- RMR infrastructure — The City paid Dayton & Knight to oversee the plans that RMR were proposing for their project. They also inspected and were involved in the commissioning of this infrastructure. In 2011 the City now has to spend $100,000 to correct a pump-cycling issue. Again the City pays to correct an issue that should have been identified by the experts at Dayton & Knight in the first place.
The City spent over $500,000 in 2010 with Dayton & Knight and I question whether we are receiving fair value. In the 2011 Capital budget (line 519) there is a debt-funded $1 million dollar project. I seriously question the process by which this came to pass. It is my understanding that when the new Downie Lift Station was being tied in the existing force main, the piping, which is located literally outside the old lift station, was found to show signs of wear and coated with debris. It is to be expected to see this at such close proximity to the lift station. The force main is over 2 km in length and if this is the only checking that was done, it is concerning that such a major expenditure can proceed. The City needs to move the Lagoon outfall to the Columbia River. Has it been looked into as to the possibility of running both a new force main and the new discharge line in the same trench to the Downie Lift Station? From that point the Columbia River is over 2 km closer and the remaining distance does not require repaving of any streets — a huge potential savings.
By not replacing the force main at this time, there could be a concentrated effort to remove the large storm water flows into the sanitary sewer that occur in the City core. The City is paying a considerable sum of money to pump and treat the hundreds of thousands liters of rainwater that enter during rain/snow events.
The City continues to use Dayton & Knight for IT work. The costs include air-travel costs to Kelowna, car rental, plus the labour rates. The City has had a much longer and successful relationship with a company located in Kelowna (Interior Instrument Tech) which has only to drive up from Kelowna, a much more efficient choice.
It appears that Dayton & Knights’ bottom line is driving the City’s infrastructure plans and I question whether Revelstoke’s best interests are being met.
Red Devil Hill (line 198). This project needs to be halted until such time as the outer lane is stabilized. The City has continued to band-aid this area, paving and repaving to cover up the ongoing settling that continues to occur. We have had to relocate the water main to the inside of the road because the settling pulled the piping apart to the point it was leaking. There is no sense in replacing the no-post barrier until the road is dealt with.
Bear-proof garbage cans (line 184). The decision to allocate $55,000/year for 5 years is baffling. How does the Council rationalize this as a core function of the City? To accept that the City is in some way responsible for people’s inattentiveness or choices on how they choose to deal with their own garbage is puzzling. With the ongoing struggle for finances this Gas Tax money could be put to better use freeing up the equivalent dollar value from general taxation in other areas.
The City pays the managers of Parks & Rec, Public Works & Engineering and the Fire Department a combined total in excess of $350,000 per year. Council asked them to come up with two scenarios, 5% and a 10% reduction over 2 years. Not one of these managers offered a single pro-active solution. The resulting display of offerings were nothing short of political hot buttons.
Public Works cut sweeping by 40% — does nothing but raise the ire of the public when in fact the sweeper is already being used too much. Once the main sweeping is done the flush truck can quickly and effectively wash the fine dust to the curb.
Reduce equipment maintenance — absurd, it will cost more.
Parks & Rec. — Reduction of facility hours. This one has already played itself out.
No mention of cutting outside labour costs by reducing the amount of flowers planted and to reintroduce more shrubbery that is less labour intensive. Cutting out the full time Arborist for a season.
Fire Department — cutting fire hydrant maintenance by 45%. This is much like shooting yourself in the foot and wondering why it hurts. This could very well lower our Fire Underwriters Survey rating which has dropped significantly. Where will the money come from for the snow removal for the hydrants as this is what it was funded from.
No mention of looking for a different style of operation that may save overtime and other hours.
Line item 21. There should be a moratorium placed on spending on City Hall beyond required maintenance. This building has seen many renovations and Council needs to determine if it is time to sell it and move elsewhere. The City purchased the Courthouse, which was not a bad idea for the reasons at that time. As the City will continue to maintain this building, it should be studied to see if this building can be used to house the Citys’ operation.
The Ministry of Transportation & Highways ran 300-plus km’s of roads, two satellite camps, a ferry system, plus related support network from the third floor. Surely the City can run its affairs out of here. Plus tourism wise, it’s a historical sight much like the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, Ottawa, etc. The City is in direct competition with its commercial taxpayers by renting space to businesses. With the sale of City Hall it would generate +/- $25,000 of additional taxes, not a lot but something.
The purchase of the old Century Vallens building was a good move to amalgamate the land with the Rec Center/Firehall. This building should be torn down before there is any money spent on it. It was the land that was a good move — not the building. For now, turn it into a parking lot.
I have watched Council micro-manage the budget line by line for endless hours. Council needs to determine the dollar value that each department will receive. Make the respective managers layout their budget for Council approval. They are being well paid and should be held accountable to manage… it’s their job.
Having been employed with the City since this project was evolving from a co-generation plant, to the realization there was not enough capital, to
bio-mass heating only has raised many concerns. The City has held $1 million in preferred shares since 2006.
The agreement was for RCEC to pay 7% interest when it could do so. As this has not come to pass, the City has not received any return on a million dollars, a loss of $350,000 in the first 5 years. It now holds $1.2 million in shares and is losing $84,000/year at this rate. This, coupled with the never-ending repairs and electrical upgrades required by Worksafe BC, continues to degrade the possibility of this project ever seeing the light of day. Living within eye sight of the plant, it is very evident that this plant cannot sustain its’ heating load below -5° Celsius and requires costly propane to meet its demand, further negates any positive results. It is time for Council to look at selling this plant to a company needing carbon offsets. While in the initial stages of proposed co-gen, that had potential merit, the resulting compromise has not lived up to expectations and Council needs to measure this plant as to whether it falls into a core responsibility/function of the City.
This entity has been one of the most static and consistent operations in the City. Its percentage increases are reasonable and justifiable. It is my understanding that there was a request for the 12th member 3 years ago. At that time it was approved by the Council of the day and the paper trail was initiated. After a year or so it was realized that the approval process had not reached the federal government level. It was then furthered and as I understand, the approval to fund the 30% was given. It now is back in Council’s hands and the answer is now no. The request for an officer to target Revelstokes’ growing drug problem is a very proactive move. Council has not committed any new resources to policing for over 14 years and with all the issues that come with the resort I find this troubling.
How long a process will it be or when will the federal government approve the expenditure of 30% funding again if this offer is turned down. This is no different than turning down infrastructure funding a very unwise move. I do not understand how Council can allocate funds for bear-proof garbage cans or fund beyond its commitment to the Chamber of Commerce or continue to fund RCEC and many other issues, but refuse this request. We are a resort town whether we like it or not. While drugs are not a new issue, their presence is much more prominent now and Council needs to be proactive on this. Policing has to be one of the most basic core responsibilities that the City supports and I feel that this is not portrayed by the actions of Council.