December 6, 2022 Message to the Membership
Posted on December 6, 2022 in Message to the Membership
Going into Year 2 of a multi-year (two-year) civic budget, Saskatoon City Council spent the better part of two days last week determining just how much of an adjustment needed to be made from their original prognostication of one year ago.
At that time they anticipated that in the second year, ie: the upcoming year of 2023, an increase of 3.53 per cent would be warranted. As it turns out, close, but no cigar. The Mid-Year Adjustment instead came in at 3.93 per cent.
So here we are, staring at yet another (almost) 4 per cent lift in yet another area of overhead that we have no control over. Death by 1,000 cuts is an ironic metaphor because had the City been successful in finding more cuts, it would have been a welcome change.
This process of a Mid-Year Adjustment is just the second time such an exercise has taken place. The first time was two years ago, in 2020, when – as the world’s economy was going into the toilet – City Council responded in a term that can barely be descried as admirable by lowering the proposed increase of 3.87 per cent down to 2.83 per cent.
And while that decrease was appreciated, it was not particularly earth shattering. Indeed, while the rest of the world’s economic fortunes contracted, the City raised their revenues by nearly three per cent. Not exactly mirroring the realities that were felt by many of us at the time.
Indeed, while we were in the throes of the pandemic, the NSBA had sent in a letter to City Council suggesting that if a worldwide pandemic isn’t the greatest opportunity to right-size your workforce, then there likely never would be. (Thinking that it was, in fact, a great opportunity to reduce administrative costs, not the other way around.)
As it turns out, apparently and unfortunately, there likely never will be because there were certainly no massive layoffs at the City when we were all (OK, maybe not all of us were) sitting at home watching Netflix.
OK, so they weren’t going to lay anyone off. Then at the Budget deliberations last year, when we were still certainly feeling the effects of COVID – in terms of it being an economic vacuum, sucking the life out of every small business – we encouraged the City to implement a hiring freeze. Just don’t hire anyone new, is all we said. We didn’t think that was out of line.
But nOOooOOooo, once again we were wrong to suggest such an outlandish recommendation. We didn’t know what we were talking about, it was suggested. In fact, it was deemed as a disingenuous recommendation.
The point of all this history-raising is to paint the picture for what was to come this time around. Once again hiring FTE’s (full-time equivalents; ie: employees) was among the top expenditure items. Remember what we said about the 3.53 per cent being the target just one year ago? Well, by deliberation time, that number had grown to 4.38 per cent, almost a full point ahead of where it was expected to be.
So this time around, we were a little more prescriptive in terms of where we might recommend cuts be made. Indeed, we were asked to provide more detailed information rather than speak in general terms.
We looked at where the new FTE’s were being proposed, and identified three areas that were deemed to be less-than-critical: Arts, Culture and Events venues, Environmental Health, and Recreation and Culture. All told, these were not big numbers. They only accounted for approximately 10 FTE’s. We thought it would be a minor, yet entirely doable, reduction. Nope, nada, negatory, no way José. Each of them passed with flying colours.
You and I probably already know it, but for the sake of others who may not, the problem with new FTE’s – as has been proven time and again, even during a global pandemic – is that they never go away. Therefore, City payroll will only ever increase. That’s a scary thought, isn’t it?
In other words, it doesn’t only matter in the year in which they’re hired, it’s each and every year after. And it’s not just their salaries that matter, it’s the pension and benefits that truly have the legacy issues. In other words, they cost taxpayers forever.
The only solution as I see it, is for City Council to behave like Directors of a Board would do, and decree to all department managers that they cut their costs by x per cent. Pick a number – 3, 5, 10, whatever. Then hold them accountable to it.
It happens all the time in the business and corporate world (remember that pandemic thing we just went through?), so why can’t it here?
Let’s hope that by next year, when we’re looking at another two-year cycle, City Council starts behaving like a Board of a $1-billion corporation. Because that’s what they are. And act accordingly.
Until next time, be safe, be smart, be considerate, be well, but most of all, be kind.