November 30, 2021 Message to the Membership

Posted on November 30, 2021 in

November 30, 2021 Message to the Membership

The irony of the situation wasn’t lost upon me. While watching the City of Saskatoon’s Budget meeting Monday afternoon remotely on Microsoft Teams, there was a question that came forward about whether or not the City’s huge IT transformation to something called Project Fusion played a major role in Council receiving the budget documents fairly late in the process. And just then, at that very moment, the audio-visual communication to Administration became disrupted and fragmented, so much so that Mayor Clark needed to implement an unplanned five-minute recess to get the technology up and running again. 

Don’t get me wrong, I know Fusion and Teams are two totally different platforms, but the bigger picture, whether or not a technological ‘advancement’ was to blame, couldn’t have come at a more distinct (and humorous time). 

For policy wonks and civic nerds like me and my colleagues, it’s well-known that the City is now in the process of deliberating its next budget, a two-year budget for the years 2022 and 2023. The rest of you, who have interesting lives and other interests that aren’t so nerdy, may not be in the know on this. (Who could blame you, really?) 

But the reality is that what is potentially a three-day marathon will determine how much civic taxes you, me and all of our friends and neighbours will pay in next two years. 

A three-day meeting might seem like a long time, and granted, it does seem like it is at various points (actually at times it seems like three weeks). But when you think they have 700-plus pages to go through, which administration has spent weeks and sometimes months pulling together, it’s actually a fairly concentrated period of time. Especially when you consider the fact that Council (and other nerds like those of us so inclined at the NSBA) just received their packages six days prior, you realize that it’s a really condensed process. 

As has become customary, the hard-working folks of the NSBA’s Tax Committee reviewed the documentation and came forward with a few recommendations for City Council to use as takeaways. Likely the biggest piece of advice was to run the place like a business.  

That’s not to say that the good people in senior positions at the City aren’t running the corporation as a business; because of course they are. But more so to be business-minded about it, which is to say, to listen to the professionals, like the accountants, who would certainly be a lot more, shall we say, surgical about which positions are necessary and which are, perhaps, less so. 

Accountants (of which we have a few on our committee) are very good at expense reduction. They make a living at it. Their profession revolves around it. There are multi-national corporations with acronyms for names that have perfected the art of this aspect of business. Therefore, I’m pretty sure it can be done.  

In the view of the NSBA’s Tax Committee, the simplest way to achieve expense reduction is to not hire the 95.5 FTE’s City Administration is proposing to add to its workforce. Especially when you consider that these employees average out at a cost of $80K, including pension, benefits and the like. Not hiring these people would save just under $8M. 

And of course, the bigger problem with adding FTE’s at the municipal level is that once they’re there, they’re there. In other words, they never go away. So that $80k price tag of today will only grow over time. And then there’s another crop of fresh-faced $80k/year recruits to follow the next year. And the year after that. It’s a problem that never stops. 

Unfortunately, the City has traditionally looked at increases in revenue to offset its growing expenditures. This has resulted in tax increases that have obliterated the CPI. To illustrate this purpose, the NSBA took 10 commercial properties and analyzed their tax increases from 2011-2021. The overall average for these 10 properties was a 65% increase in taxes, meanwhile, the CPI over that same time period in Saskatchewan grew by 19%. That translates to taxes rising nearly 3.5 times higher than the rate of inflation.  

I feel for City Administration, I really do. I know that those tasked in leadership positions are doing their job to the best of their considerable abilities, and they have to conduct their work in the most public of arenas. And they’ve got a lot of scrutiny taking place over their work at any given time, but it’s amplified by the nth degree during budget deliberations.  

I guess it goes with the territory, and they’re well aware of that before they get into these leadership roles. But when you or I make a mistake, usually there’s not hundreds of people watching your every move, waiting to see if you blink or twitch.  

Or waiting for the technology ‘advancement’ to eliminate the frustration felt by all. 

Until next time, be safe, be smart, be considerate, be well but most of all, be kind. 

Keith Moen,

Executive Director

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