Belt tightening has become the default position of many municipalities across the province.
In order to realize the most potential savings and efficiencies in their operations, many cities have turned to a core services review to get the most bang out of their dwindling bucks.
Reviews have led to organizations getting restructured, new practices getting established and layoffs where there was excess staff to be trimmed.
"Core services reviews seem to be one of those flavour-of-the-month things that's happening more and more in British Columbia," said Keith Reynolds, a researcher for the provincial branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
Unionized workers in Prince George, already feeling the pressure from the spring's nine-person layoff at city hall, are watching the local core services review closely.
One of the biggest lessons Prince George union members can learn from other areas is that they need to get involved, said CUPE 399 president Gary Campbell.
"The statistics show that the cities that just sat back and let the core review happen - it didn't go well for city employees," Campbell said. "The cities where the employees were proactive, were really involved from the start, it went better for them."
The most prominent cautionary tale is Penticton, which underwent a review beginning in late 2009 in an attempt to dig itself out of a deep financial hole.
"Penticton has seen year over year operating costs grow at 3.5 times the rate of the CPI [consumer price index]. The city has also made significant investments in local infrastructure and has seen long-term debt increase 600 per cent," said the city's February 2010 Core Services Review Findings Report.
Helios Services Group was tasked with bringing Penticton back into shape. The consulting firm was responsible for multiple core services reviews in the province, including Powell River, Summerland and Osoyoos.
Helios identified a financially unsustainable structure in Penticton, with more managers than necessary and public sector wages that outstripped those for similar jobs in the private sector.
Action taken on those findings led Penticton city council to pass a 2011 budget that actually decreased property taxes by half a per cent from 2010 levels.
But to realize those savings, 21 jobs were axed (17 union and four management), fees were increased, wage freezes were imposed and union employees faced a demanding employer when renegotiating their collective bargaining agreement.
The layoffs, which were attributed to organizational restructuring, were said to save the city $970,000 annually.
When they signed their new agreement with CUPE local 608 in May 2011, Penticton said the four-year contract would achieve a minimum total savings of $394,000.
Among the provisions were lower new hire rates. Instead of $22.80 per hour, new lifeguards and labourers now receive $18.50 and $18, respectively. Union members also received a $300 signing bonus in lieu of a wage increase for 2010.
Job cuts are something Prince George city worker union leaders are already acquainted with, following the elimination of 28 city positions in January.
"Their excuse there was they had to come in on budget, so we didn't have much recourse there," said Campbell. "But I'd sure hate to see anyone else lose jobs."
Both Campbell and local 1048 president Janet Bigelow said KPMG - contracted to carry out the Prince George core services review - has already floated ideas like selling city assets such as the Four Seasons pool and Civic Centre.
Campbell said he's hoping the core review process will look at finding ways to make more money with the assets already available instead of trying to make a quick buck on a sale.
"You'd get a cash influx now and solve some problems, but really it's just a Band Aid - a temporary thing," he said. "What do you do when the money is gone?"
"We're in the business of providing services," Bigelow added, explaining privatizing things like recreation would affect everyone.
The unions have been trying to keep themselves and the public informed, by attending any core services review meetings as well as setting up a booth at the Prince George Exhibition to pass information on to city residents.
But by being proactive, Campbell said he hopes the consultants will be swayed to look at alternatives when the final report is released.
"These are very dangerous roads they're going down," he said.
Mayor Shari Green said KPMG has generated a variety of ideas to generate discussion on the city's 140 services and activities profiled, including divesting of city property.
"I'm not prepared to say whether something's a good idea or not until I see the context of why and that rationale will be provided," she said.
The current collective bargaining agreements with CUPE locals 1048 and 399 expire as of Dec. 31 - right in time to feel the effects of any core services review recommendations during the bargaining process.