August 22, 2023, Message to the Membership

Posted on August 21, 2023 in

August 22, 2023, Message to the Membership

For those of you paying attention over these lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, the following will not come as any surprise to you. But if you’ve actually had a life outside of your business and taken advantage of extracurricular summer activities, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that the NSBA has been putting pressure on Saskatoon City Hall officials to do the right thing when it comes to mitigating their overhead expenses.

It began in earnest at the July 25th special budget meeting, when the NSBA submitted a letter including seven proposed recommendations for the city to consider to reduce their funding gap.

Of the seven recommendations the first two were certainly the most emphasized by your NSBA. These were to 1) conduct an external HR audit to first determine, then eliminate personnel inefficiencies, and to have this activity coexist along with 2) a much more stringent efficiency and productivity agenda. These two items go hand in hand as one accentuates the other.

Although they’ve yet to incorporate any of these recommendations, to their credit, the City put forward a motion at their July meeting recommending that the NSBA, along with the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce, be engaged in an advisory committee with City Hall administration. Although we’ve yet to see any development occur with respect for this advisory committee thus far, we are hopeful that it will result in some effective and bold leadership at the civic level.

This past week on August 15th the NSBA was again in Council chambers to emphasize the need for the city to do some actual expenditure cuts. Because what we have seen so far has largely been simply a deferral of payments that the taxpayer will bear the brunt of in future years.

With 4,300 employees on the payroll and another 300 contractors also being paid by the City, we believe it’s reasonable to find efficiencies and or redundancies that would result in approximately 400 City of Saskatoon employees being laid off. This could well result in savings of $40 million, using $100,000 per employee, when you take into account their salary, plus benefits, plus pension, plus employer costs etc.

The City, in its response to this, has been not only reluctant to go down this path, but be defensive in their justifications to maintain the status quo. I must admit, this makes little to no sense to me, especially when their response to this date in terms of addressing the budget shortfall, is to largely look to minor incremental increases in revenue, such as raising parking rates by $0.50 per hour or charging $0.15 to use the parking app each time, or to increase the costs for burials in cemetery plots. They are literally scrounging for pennies when they should be looking at million-dollar lines, if not 10’s of million-dollar lines of items.

When I emphasized these facts at last week’s special budget council meeting, I was met with further defensiveness, particularly around the rabbit hole of the City’s environmental and sustainability department, as it was one of the departments which we, from an outsider’s perspective, view as being administrative-heavy, to say the least.

I must pause at this point to remind not only you, but our City’s elected and administrative officials, to emphasize our role in this process is merely to assist the City so that they can make decisions to reduce expenditures. It’s not our role, however, to do the actual audits of departments, staff and productivity and anything HR-related. Rather, that is the city’s role. And because we’re asking them to do this critical internal analysis, it’s important that it be done by a third party, who will be impartial in the audit.

An interesting observation is that unlike essentially the rest of the world, this is the first time the City has had to deal with the direct consequence of COVID-19 from a budgetary standpoint. Because this is in fact a direct, albeit delayed, fallout from COVID-19. Indeed, employers the world over were forced to deal with the realities of a drastically (instantly!) reduced revenue stream and make corresponding adjustments to their expenditures where necessary. Mass layoffs around the world ensued.

The City, and many other municipalities around the world, did not face those same stark, drastic, and sudden realities, as their revenues were not significantly impacted, relative to the rest of the real world. Now that they find themselves in this position, however, they are choosing not to right-size their workforce, which again, is contrary to what the rest of the world did in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I can’t begin to tell you how many emails, phone calls, text messages, personal conversations, dialogue through meetings – you name it – whatever the communication style was or has been, it has been overwhelming. I thought the ill-fated 4th Avenue bike lane debate provided us with a tremendous amount of feedback – and it did, believe me – but it was a fraction of the feedback I’ve been getting since we started down this fiscal restraint path.

Therefore, as I said to City Council in my remarks last week, I can feel this sense of obligation to not only our members, but to the silent majority, who can clearly see that the only path forward out of this crisis – and it is a crisis – is one of fewer civic employees. If only our City Council could see the same reality – and direct our administration accordingly.

 

Keith Moen

Executive Director

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