Part one of an ongoing series of stories examining the City of Prince George's core services review. The series opens with an examination of KPMG's core review report of the City of Toronto's operations last year and how those recommendations could be a preview of what KPMG suggests for Prince George.
Prince George and Toronto, the country's largest metropolis, have little in common, except for the scenarios surrounding the core services review.
Campaigning to make the move to the mayor's chair, a city councillor swept to victory on the promise to reign in spending without cutting jobs at city hall.
However, once in office, the mayor said they had no choice but to make the difficult decisions to hand out pink slips and that a core services review would unearth further savings.
The city brought consulting firm KPMG on board, at a cost of $350,000, to provide an external overview of where "efficiencies" and cost-saving "opportunities" could be found.
Toronto went through this process in the summer of 2011 and the consultants charged with carrying out the Prince George core services review may be dipping into the same prescribed bag of tricks to help Prince George save money.
Although there hasn't been a final draft of recommendations released, meetings between KPMG and the city's select committee on a core services review have already outlined a number of potential cost-saving opportunities. The general bent of the recommendations from KPMG have much in common with what they urged Toronto to do last year.
Big budget pressures
Faced with the prospect of having to shave $774 million from their budget, Toronto city council had KPMG analyze more than 150 city-provided or city agency provided services for cost-reduction opportunities, separating the needs from the nice-to-haves.
This came after Mayor Rob Ford, who during his election campaign said savings could be found by "stopping the gravy train" and reducing the workforce through attrition rather than layoffs, went head-to-head with city unions and threatened to hand out thousands of pink slips.
"For years, our city has spent more than than it brings in. Instead of fixing the problem, we've kept passing the buck to 'next year.' Well, next year has arrived. It's time we fixed the problem," Ford said at a July 2011 city meeting.
After the three-month process, KPMG came back with a series of proposals that would have resulted in an estimated total operational savings of $200 to $300 million between 2012 and 2014.
"The outputs and outcomes of the core services review and the council direction that came out of that report has really sort of ended up as a work plan for us over a number of years," explained Toronto corporate policy manager Fiona Murray. "There were hundreds of opportunities identified through that process."
Roughly $42 million worth of savings opportunities made it into the city's 2012 budget plan while others were bundled together for further study as part of the city's ongoing services efficiency studies.
KPMG rolled out its recommendations in a series of eight reports, each corresponding to a category of services.
In the field of public works and infrastructure, some of the more notable suggestions to consider eliminating the snow windrow clearing program (up to five per cent savings), reducing snow plowing and snow removal standards on residential streets (also five per cent savings) and eliminating the fluoridation of Toronto water.
In the areas of community development and recreation, KPMG recommended transferring city-operated child care centres to community or private operators and eliminating fully subsidized spaces, reducing the range of medical calls the fire department responds to, selling city-operated long-term care homes and giving the homeless higher priority to social housing access.
In economic development, the city was asked to consider reducing or eliminating all economic development or business services and getting rid of the employment and social services programs.
In the area of executive committee governance (which includes the city manager's office, legal services and financial planning), KPMG suggested outsourcing printing and design services, centralizing communications responsibilities and considering the merits of external investment management.
For government management, the city could save money by capping the development of the 311 phone service - a city information and service request line - and outsourcing some of those activities to the private sector, using technology to automate some manual processes and developing a one-stop counter service for a wide range of municipal services.
The consultants found opportunities in licensing and standards by outsourcing waste diversion enforcement - bylaw compliance officers who ensure residents are properly following the garbage and recycling programs - and consider the value of enforcing cat and dog licenses.
In parks and environment, savings could be achieved by contracting maintenance work of facilities to interested community groups, getting rid of the city zoo and farm attractions, reducing the standard for grass cutting and snow clearing and getting rid of horticulture activities.
In the city's planning and growth management departments, the consultants suggested axing public art programs, streamlining the review of planning applications and not giving out or charging the public for information about building permissions or records.
With each report, public reaction to the recommendations was vocal.
A coalition of community groups formed under the Stop the Cuts Network, the local unions lashed out with press releases and more than 302 people turned up to speak at a 22-hour executive committee meeting.
By the time the dust cleared, Toronto city council approved nearly 30 of the recommendations. These included reducing community and neighbourhood development activities, getting rid of the windrow clearing program, considering closing library branches with lower circulation numbers and eliminating the requirement for paid duty police officers at construction sites.
"We've taken a package of related opportunities that they noted and essentially scoped it into a much more detailed review and analysis that enables us to do some further due diligence related to those opportunities," Murray said.
Recommendations requiring that sober second thought include asking staff and corresponding boards to review options for selling off the Toronto Zoo, increasing the revenues of the Canadian National Exhibition fairground and underperforming museums and adding a voluntary contribution option to residents property tax bills.
With the $350,000 contingency fund for a local review, Prince George city council has given KPMG the room to come up with a Toronto-sized remedy for the city's financial woes. In February, council approved a $131 million operating budget after making expenditure cuts to multiple departments and eliminating 28 staff positions.
And based on early discussions, what worked for the goose may be on track for the Prince George gander.
Among the ideas already being floated are the sale of city assets such as the Civic Centre, Four Seasons pool and neighbourhood parks.
Those who have attended meetings with the consultant project leaders have also heard suggestions to reduce the the level of snow clearing.
A final report from KPMG is scheduled for release in October.