For over a year now, the City of Prince George has been involved in undertaking a core services review. At a cost of over $300,000 they had the outside consulting firm KPMG look through the way the city operates to find ways to cut down on costs. It’s been a controversial process, but one supporters (including, obviously, the bulk of the city council that is overseeing the process) maintain will be worthwhile. You can read the city’s rationale on their project page.
On Monday, mayor and council will sit down with a 120 page document titled the “Core Services Review Implementation Plan“. Basically, once KPMG made their list of ideas for what the city should do differently, city staff went through the list to examine what was possible, legal, and the benefits and drawbacks of the various ideas. Now they have a list of recommendations for council to consider. Some of these decisions will be made on Monday, others will need further review.
I’m not sure how many people are going to sit down and read all 120 pages. But I did, and here are some of the things that caught my eye. Please note, I’m not making judgement calls on whether these are good ideas or bad ideas, I’m simply highlighting them as proposals that caught my attention.
1. Charge more money for ice rinks, fields, and swimming.
This was pretty prominent throughout the whole process. We’re looking at 10% increases in 2014, 2015 and 2016 for using pools, school fields, and Masich Place (the track). On that subject, the Prince George Track and Field club could face a $700 increase in their rates in 2014, followed by a 10% increase in 2015 and 2016.
I don’t use the city ice arenas at all, but this caught my eye. According to the report, Prince George has low rates for ice time when compared to North Vancouver, Chilliwack and Kamloops, so the recommendation is to increase the fees in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Right now, the average men’s rec player pays $329 annually. By 2016, that could go up to $531. Women go from $291 to $470, and average kids fees go from $331 to $532. So I guess if you play hockey and so does your kid that could potentially cost $400 extra a year. Again, though, the argument is right now people are being undercharged.
2. Do not clear residential streets until 12 cms of snowfall
Right now, clearing happens after 10 cm of snowfall. And people sure do like to complain when their streets aren’t cleared. But quoting directly from the report: “If the threshold for clearing residential streets is increased from 10cm to 12cm, $180,000 of cost can be reallocated to other high priority snow and ice control activities. The 2cm increase will have no substantive impact on accessibility.”
3. Increase business licence fees by 30% and charge people money to rent out suites and duplexes
I don’t run a business and don’t know how much this would cost an average business owner. But the report notes that right now the business licence fees don’t pay for the services that the city has to provide to businesses (building inspections, fire safety, police services), so upping the fee by 30% would make the whole system sustainable, rather than a money-loser.
Related to this, as it currently stands you don’t need a business licence if you rent out a suite in your house or have a duplex or basically rent out anything with under three dwellings in it. City staff looked at other cities and found out that they charge business licences for these sorts of landlords and recommend Prince George do it, too.
4. Shut down tennis courts
Right now, the city maintains 63 public tennis courts. The thinking is this is more than necessary, and the number should decrease to 42. For comparison, they point out Kamloops has 26 and Kelowna has 27 (on a side-note, I wonder how we got so many tennis courts).
Here are the locations of the tennis courts that would be shut down:
Harwin Elementary School
Quinson Elementary School
South Fort /Family Resource
Van Bien Elementary School
Vanway Elementary School
Westwood Elementary School
Worth noting: the city says even if these are shut down, they could still be used as ice rinks in the winter, and they would still be monitored for safety. They just won’t paint lines, weed, and put up nets.
5. Shut down the Nechako Library, maybe
As it stands, the Prince George Public Library has two branches: the main one downtown, and a little outlet one up in the Hart area, which is about 13 km away.
The backstory provided in the report is this: in 2002, the Library Board said they don’t like the idea, but they could meet their budget requirements by shutting down this other library branch. The city didn’t make them do that and gave them the cash to keep operating, but it is estimated that it costs $200,000 a year to keep it going. City staff says it’s time to do a cost/benefit analysis- so it’s not like the Nechako branch will be shut down on Monday, but council could tell staff to look into it.
6. Also, maybe we have too many firehalls
KPMG says, and I quote, that the four firehalls in the city are “too many.”
In its report, city staff says “the suggestions in this opportunity that there are too many firehalls (4) and that the two halls in the city centre need to be amalgamated/reworked are not based on any formal analysis. However,as the City is now emerging from a ten year period of stagnant growth, a formal analysis is timely.” So, like the library, they don’t want council to make a decision- but they do think it’s time to look into the idea.
Also of note: apparently the downtown firehall is too old, and needs replacing. KPMG and city staff agree.
7. City council needs a code of conduct
I don’t get the impression this saves money (I could be wrong, I guess if councillors are constantly breaking rules and going to court that gets expensive), but anyways city staff looked at other code of conducts in other cities and wrote one for city council to adopt, if they want. It outlines ethics and things like that. You can read it at the very end of this document.
8. The Civic Centre isn’t going to be sold, at least not until after the Canada Winter Games
KPMG had a few ideas for how the city could save money on the Civic Center. One was to get a third-party operator to run it, instead of city staff, and another was to just sell it.
But! The Canada Winter Games is coming in 2015. And the Civic Centre is a big part of that. It’s going to be the Athletes’ Village and it’s going to be where a whole bunch of entertainment and ceremonies take place. So the staff recommendation is to keep doing what we’re doing until the Games are over. They add, “All avenues will be explored and identified to bring forward the best possible scenario for the operation of the [Civic Centre].”
9. Dog licences are kind of pricey compared to other cities
Dog licences for spayed/neutered pets cost $32 and unfixed are $74. You can get a discount of a few bucks if you pay early, but city staff says we should eliminate that. What caught my attention is the fees in other “comparable” cities. Compared to our $32/$74 rate, Kelowna charges $20/$60, Kamloops $25/$60, and Penticton $31/$62.
There’s a whole ton of other things in there, from drinking water prices to parking fees building inspections.
Council is going to sit down and consider these Monday morning at 8:30. You can read the full list of recommendations here, there will be a preview of the meeting Monday morning on Daybreak (and in other media, I’m sure), and you can either go down to city hall to see what council decides or stream the meeting live online from this website.
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