A mayor-led group may consider subcontracting city services
A small task force that includes Mayor Mark Sutcliffe may soon be tasked with overseeing several focused reviews of the City of Ottawa’s services and programs, to assess whether they are best done internally, by a contractor, via a public-private Partnership or other institution to be carried out.
Sutcliffe fought during the fall election with promises to “embark on a strategic review of existing city spending” to find savings of between $35 million and $60 million.
Documents presented for the 2023 draft budget include a policy statement and a roadmap of how such service reviews would take place during this council’s four-year term. The staff made their recommendations according to the budget report in consultation with the mayor.
The documents state that the overarching idea is to build a “competitive culture” in the city, not to make “cuts in service levels.” City services and programs would be compared to industry best practices and benchmarks, and multiple ways to deliver those programs would be evaluated, it said.
Interim city manager Wendy Stephanson told a committee meeting Feb. 7 that the goal is to challenge the way the city does business and see if efficiency gains could free up money for other programs .
Three-person working group
If the documents are approved during the final budget vote on March 1, a three-person working group would be formed that would include the mayor, audit committee chair, and county commissioner. Cathy Curry and one councilor altogether.
This working group would evaluate which city programs and services are the best candidates and oversee detailed service reviews, possibly several per year. A core group of city officials would help, and the city manager’s office would “liaison” with the auditor general.
“We want it to be a tight working group,” Sutcliffe said at City Hall when the Finance Committee’s share of the budget was discussed. “But anything we decide, anything we recommend, will come before the Council and there will be plenty of time for everyone to discuss it.”
The reviews could include a “strong challenge function by volunteer industry experts from external public and private organizations,” according to the documents.
The Council previously discussed auditor involvement
Council members had known that the current 2023 fiscal cycle would come too quickly for a comprehensive spending review, but expected one to take place in time for 2024.
At the December 7 council meeting, Rideau-Jock Coun said. David Brown suggested that the Auditor General be tasked with doing this work, and several of his colleagues liked the idea of taking an objective, non-political look at the city’s programs.
Curry presented a replacement motion at the same meeting, asking the finance committee to consider a variety of options instead, which could include the auditor or possibly a working group of council members, outside experts and staff.
None of the motions were approved, and eventually Brown’s motion was postponed to the first Audit Committee meeting – scheduled for Friday February 17. Meanwhile, the roadmap and policy for service reviews appeared on February 1 as part of the budget documents.
Capital Ward Coun. Shawn Menard now regrets that Nathalie Gougeon, the city’s auditor general, will not be involved. He is also concerned about the language in the document about what forms of city service delivery might be considered and hopes it can be reworded before the final vote.
The document provides a list of program delivery methods to consider, including: “internal as-is, internal re-engineering, controlled competition, procurement, and public-private partnership(s)”.
“After the LRT [public inquiry] report has come out, these things must now be questioned,” Menard said, citing concerns the commissioner has expressed about the city’s public-private partnership with the Rideau Transit Group.
“I don’t think that’s the big idea we’re looking for when it comes to the strategic review as a whole council.”
Regarding how the city’s workforce may or may not be affected by performance reviews, the policy statement states that “provisions of the collective agreement(s) are respected, but the collective agreement should not constitute an obstacle to competitiveness”.