Coun. Braun calls for core services review of Abbotsford city hall

Coun. Henry Braun believes Abbotsford is on an “unsustainable” financial path and needs a core services review.

Abbotsford Coun. Henry Braun.

Abbotsford Coun. Henry Braun.

Abbotsford is on an “unsustainable” financial path, says the city’s newest councillor.

Henry Braun said he and other council members have been pushing for some serious belt-tightening, and while staff has proposed a tax hike as low as 1.52 per cent, it isn’t enough.

“In the economic times we’re in we cannot afford to do things the way we did before. Private business figured this out three years ago; they’re way ahead of us on this,” Braun told The News on Tuesday.

He appreciates staff’s efforts in trimming the proposed 2012 budget, but pointed out that most of the savings are garnered by deferring projects, rather than making cuts.

“We’re just kicking that can down the road for other councils to deal with.”

He said the city’s five-year financial plan is a combination of “wish lists and needs” and should be cut down to realistic levels.

“We say we have a five-year plan and we do, but that plan doesn’t tell us anything.”

On Monday night he suggested to council that a core services review was needed to analyze how the city does business. Braun believe the review would put all the city’s processes on paper.

“In my view we don’t have that. There are a lot of processes that are in people’s heads,” said Braun.

After the meeting, Braun further explained his position.

Using engineering as an example, he said a developer can talk to two different staff members and get two different answers.

“All of this takes time and money and frustrates people,” he said.

Braun believes the problem is not new. As an experienced businessman, he said he was asked by the former city manager five years ago to look at how the city departments work and found the problem already existed.

“What we have here is a bunch of silos and the silos are each departments and the departments don’t communicate with each other … They may have a weekly staff meeting and they’re talking, but they’re not talking about how can we deliver the services better.”

Braun said a blueprint is needed to prevent wasting time and resources. An independent core service review would look at every aspect of how the city does business daily and show how to better utilize manpower.

“We are spending all sorts of time going to meetings where people are just staring out the window. And this is valuable staff time because there are 10 staff members at a meeting and they’ll be there for three or four hours,” said Braun.

While he made it clear he was speaking as an individual councillor, Braun believes others at the table also feel a change is needed.

“We are doing things the way we always have done them before and that has to change … otherwise we are just going to keep adding staff, cutting services, which is just driving up taxes.

“It behooves us to make sure we are getting every last cent we can out of the system so we don’t have to keep raising taxes five or six per cent every year.”

City staff will now look into what the timeline and cost would be to perform such a review.

“We need to get some details for them (council) so they can make a decision on how to proceed,” said city manager Frank Pizzuto.

He said a core services review is like an efficiency review, but it could also examine what kind of services the city should be delivering.

“We want to get something back to council before they approve the budget,” he added.

Pizzuto said a core services review is often performed by municipalities to see if they are as efficient as they need to be.

“The more tight budgets get, there’s a little more activity in these areas.”