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City takes stock of service levels

Efforts by city staff to draw up an inventory of services and service levels puts St. Albert ahead of many Canadian municipalities as the city considers changing its budgeting method.
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Efforts by city staff to draw up an inventory of services and service levels puts St. Albert ahead of many Canadian municipalities as the city considers changing its budgeting method.

The inventory aims to catalogue the city's external services and service levels, and that information is used when the city builds its annual budget. City manager Kevin Scoble said work on the inventory has been building over the past three to four years and is now about 80 per cent complete.

City staff are currently targeting the end of 2018 to complete the catalogue, according to an administrative report.

On Monday, during a meeting of the governance, priorities and finance committee, city councillors reviewed the updated inventory.

The inventory is one step on the road to priority-based budgeting, which city council is considering adopting. In February, financial services director Diane McMordie told the committee a priority-based budget model would fill in some of the gaps other budgeting methods have and would help the city understand the true cost of projects and services. It also provides a stronger link to council's strategic plan than other forms of budgeting.

Coun. Jacquie Hansen said the inventory document puts St. Albert "light years" ahead of many other Canadian municipalities.

"This gives us all kinds of detail that we don't need to get into but we know is happening as business as usual, and I think we ought to be very proud of this," she said.

"This is going to be a document that really helps us go into priority-based budgeting."

The committee also heard from Chris Fabian, co-founder of the Center for Priority-Based Budgeting, that the inventory is a key ingredient of priority-based budgeting. If council decides to go down that road, St. Albert would join a handful of other municipalities and organizations in Alberta, some of which include Strathcona County and Edmonton Police Service.

Darija Slokar, corporate business planning and special projects lead, said feedback from councillors would help city staff gather information to present at budget time.

"The idea of presenting this to council early on is so administration has council's input into services and service levels that are important, so we can look at (whether we can) do this with existing resources or (if) additional resources are required," she said.

Most suggestions from the committee involved editing the document for consistency across departments to ensure similar levels of detail are provided for each and the service levels stated are worded accurately. Councillors have until March 19 to provide feedback and ask for changes.

The level of information included in some of the service levels led to an in-depth questioning of staff on specific items by some councillors, while others called for council to take a more high-level approach.

"(The details), to me, are just part of the program. It doesn't define what results we're trying to achieve," said Coun. Ken MacKay.

"I want to keep up above so we can actually identify what things we should be identifying as being important levels of service."

Coun. Natalie Joly and Coun. Sheena Hughes said they felt it was important to look at the details so council knows exactly what is being put forward to the public.

"Large pictures are made with a lot of details. if we don't look at the details, we don't know what we're even changing," Hughes said.

Joly added it is important to her that a document committing the city to providing certain service levels is accurate.

"It really shows how broad our services are and how much happens to make the city run," she said.

"It's a good reminder that all of this takes work."

Councillors will review the updated service levels inventory on April 3.

April Hudson

About the Author: April Hudson

April is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette
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