City council took their first bite of the core services review and ended up spitting out a few pieces that left a bitter taste in their mouth.
Sitting down as a committee of the whole Wednesday night, the mayor and councillors hashed out what they liked and didn't like from a sampling of 14 suggested opportunities in the KPMG final report.
Any opportunities endorsed by the group as a committee will be forwarded to the next council meeting – scheduled for Dec. 3 – for formal ratification and will prompt a call to action by staff where necessary.
Some recommendations were easier than others to swallow, such as taking into consideration having discussions with the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George about integrating 911 call handling and fire dispatch, as well as investigating gaining revenue from selling fire services to outlying areas. “This item is an automatic win,” said Coun. Cameron Stolz.
Others were soundly rejected, such as reducing the level of snow removal at civic facilities to match that of streets and sidewalks or starting discussions with the province to mesh the provincially controlled paramedic dispatch with the municipal fire call out. “Hell will freeze over before we succeed,” said Coun. Dave Wilbur.
But others options were less clear cut and led some councillors to struggle with the idea of even opening certain suggestions up to further study, with the first challenge coming from the first item discussed – selling the Pine Valley Golf Course. Mayor Shari Green said she was unsure if the city should be in the golf course business. Though she stood up for the city-owned course in the past, given the current marketplace, she said she's unsure if keeping the course makes sense now. “I am supportive of having a place for people to play,” she said, but highlighted the identified $1.3 million in capital upgrades the facility will need in 2015.
Looking at the course in the long-term, Coun. Brian Skakun expressed a belief that Pine Valley would turn around and was the only one to oppose moving the suggestion forward to council to get more information on what it would take to offload the space. “In my opinion, we should hang on to Pine Valley,” he said. “It's a jewel... I think it will flourish in years to come.”
Skakun was joined by fellow councillors Garth Frizzell and Frank Everitt in voting against examining a referendum process to reduce the size of council from eight to six. “As far as this being a great benefit for the citizens of Prince George, if you're looking at it strictly in terms of dollar values to save for the corporation, that could easily be achieved by just a rollback of the wage increase for councillors,” Frizzell said. Council members were more divided on the issue of outsourcing, with the committee narrowly defeating a recommendation to contract out parking enforcement. While Coun. Murry Krause said he couldn't support it on a philosophical level, Wilbur said he didn't think it was “wise for this council to handicap those looking out for the city” and that contracting out the service didn't mean that the unionized staff already doing the work would lose their employment.
The vote went the other way when it came to discussing finding a third-party operator for the Four Seasons Pool. While all around the table agreed an aquatic operation would never be a money maker, the majority were keen to find out if the yearly loss could be reduced. “We need to explore this whole thing and see where we end up,” said Coun. Albert Koehler. More committee members agreed with that sentiment when it came to exploring other options in the operation of the Civic Centre, which posts nearly a $500,000 loss every year. “We should engage and have a discussion,” said Stolz, rooting for free enterprise to have its shot.