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Budget could pass up long-term efficiencies for short-term savings

Recommendations from two consultant reports commissioned by the city might get put on the back-burner according to the 2022 draft budget.
St. Albert Place
St. Albert Place in St. Albert November 1, 2017. FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert might defer implementation of cost-saving initiatives found from hired consultants to save money in the short term, according to the 2022 draft budget. 

Released Nov. 3, the draft budget proposes a tax increase of 2.5 per cent. The budget recommends nine municipal business cases go unfunded as a suite of measures designed to bring the tax increase down from 7.5 per cent. 

Forgoing one business case: implementing recommendations from the city’s 2019 procurement audit by MNP and a subsequent recommendation included in the Ernst and Young operational and fiscal review will save the city $102,000 in 2022. Looking long term, however, city administration says the consequences could result in a greater cost for the city. 

During a budget information council meeting on Nov. 9, Diane McMordie, St. Albert’s director of financial services and information technology, said a temporary staff member has worked on implementing the recommendations since 2019. 

The department funded the position with “generous contributions” from the city’s vacant pool, McMordie said. The business case — should it be funded — would extend this temporary worker’s contract for another year. 

Coun. Sheena Hughes said the decision to leave putting the recommendations to work feels detrimental to the city. 

“It’s almost like you’re cutting off your own leg to try and lose weight,” Hughes said. “The MNP recommendations were about efficiencies and cost savings.”

The remaining financial service recommendation from the Ernst and Young report — category management and strategic sourcing — would transform the city’s procurement operating model, used to purchase goods, services, and construction. The report estimates this measure would save the city $3.48 million to $5.63 million over a five-year period. 

However, McMordie said many of the recommendations from the original MNP audit will need to be implemented before the city will be successful with category management.

“There's not a lot of time left over to work on some of these recommendations and so that extra resource has been helpful,” said McMordie. “Without additional resources, it's going to take a long time to get a lot of those recommendations in and thus delays the benefits we're going to receive from making some of those changes.”

Hughes currently has a motion on the table to fund the $102,000 business case.

In addition to funding a position to implement report recommendations, the city’s financial services and information technology department has one other business case, also unfunded in the draft budget: to develop an operating budget to support automation, digitization, and planning. 

If funded in 2022, the city would square away $100,000, with the same amount contributed in subsequent years to grow the fund. Eventually, the cash would go toward new cloud-based software and training to use all aspects of it, modules for existing software, and additional online offerings for residents. 

McMordie spoke of the importance of the fund during a July 12 community growth and infrastructure standing committee meeting. 

“In my opinion, there's huge risk to the organization not to invest in these measures in order for us to stay relevant and modern, and work toward automation to create efficiencies,” McMordie said on July 12. 

Presently, no councillor has put forward a motion to fund the IT automation and modernization budget. Budget deliberations begin Dec. 2. 

Rachel Narvey

About the Author: Rachel Narvey

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