If I am to describe Council’s financial strategy in simple language it is this – doing more with what we have.
Council has been successful in executing this strategy.
The early indicators include:
- Closing the gap between tax rate increases and the Consumer Price Index
- Reduced debt
- Increased reserves
- Upgrading of our credit rating
We have not taken a slash and burn approach to achieve these results. Rather we have persistently sought increased performance from the organization while protecting services, maintaining infrastructure and creating value for our community. Thankfully, we have avoided the “penny-wise and pound-foolish” approach we have seen elsewhere.
This term of Council has accelerated the organization’s capacity to do more with what we have. Our approach has not been singular but multi-faceted.
It has included:
- controlling costs
- embracing technology
- increasing the value of existing assets and new investments
While we expect management to rigorously control costs, Council has also taken significant steps to promote a culture of continuous improvement. A recent example is Council’s investment in the internal audit function. The Overtime Audit has identified cost savings – cost savings that have flowed to the bottom line of this budget. The items highlighted below are new investments approved for 2014 that will allow us to do more with what we have. In some cases, we are bringing new expertise into City Hall to accelerate change.
The Overtime Audit also identified that a Timekeeping Review will deliver costing savings and improved administrative efficiency – money that can be better used elsewhere. The Business Process Improvement Specialist will increase the value of our earlier investment in internal audit. This position will drive further optimization of service delivery to gain cost savings and productivity – once again doing more with what we have. The Contract Program Manager for Corporate Projects will streamline the delivery of major projects and speed up the approvals process saving both time and money. It will supplement an earlier investment in securing specialized project management skills.
We continue to embrace technology as a means to do more with what we have. Last year, Council approved the Corporate Technology Plan. We are phasing in our investments. The Corporate Application Analyst approved will optimize our use of existing technology to gain cost savings and productivity. We will need to pay more attention to data analytics moving forward. Data analytics can reduce capital and operating expenditures, increase revenues and improve service. For instance, we are seeing how the analysis of data will help to reduce calls for several services through the Community Wellbeing Initiative. And we know that open data will engage businesses and citizens in the process of improving their city and its services. Investments last year in energy technology are delivering returns with reduced energy budgets in 2014.
There are many ways partnerships help us do more with what we have. One example – our partnership with the Guelph Wellington Seniors’ Association allows us to do so much more at the Evergreen Seniors’ Centre than we could ever afford on our own. Tonight’s budget strengthens our partnership with the development industry as we continue to implement the recommendations of the Integrated Operational Review to support city building.
Increasing the value of our assets and investments
And we have continued with the approval of this to recognize the importance of adding value to existing assets and investments. The Downtown Development Officer will help us realize the projected increase in downtown assessment. Councillor Furfaro and Bell’s initiative to establish a Strategic Real Estate Reserve will position us to release the value of properties like IMICO and take advantage of other sources of funding like FCM’s Green Municipal Fund. And the 90-day pause on the Guelph Police Services Head Quarters Renovation and Expansion also speaks to our commitment to optimizing the return on our investments.
Doing more with what we have creates room to do much more than manage to the bottom line.
Perhaps the best example this year is to make the affordable bus pass permanent. Affordable and dependable transit service is tied to income security for many – whether that means getting to a job or freeing up individual and family budgets for basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. Guelph launched the Affordable Bus Pass pilot in 2012 and over 2,000 passes have been issued – 89% of which are new riders. Guelph Transit does more than move people – it helps them connect and contribute meaningfully to their community. We should all be proud of this important program.
The budget that Council approved tonight will keep downward pressure on future tax rate increases so that we can continue build an even better city.