The City of Port Alberni is looking at all avenues to cut costs, said Mayor Mike Ruttan in response to the much-anticipated management review, released last week.
The seven recommendations outlined in the Judy Rogers organization and compensation review ranged from making the museum a non-profit to cutting management benefit packages.
The total cost for the 12-page report was $52,347, according to former city manager Ken Watson.
It’s not the only review of city management commissioned by the city in recent years. In 2011, the city commissioned a $31,091 organization review and a $15,633 management and exempt job evaluation plan.
Ruttan said he was pleased with the Rogers report.
“We definitely felt like we got our money’s worth. There were lots of recommendations in there about some really critical components.”
The report has remained in-camera since the city received and endorsed it in early fall. Included with the released report was an implementation plan from acting city manager Tim Pley.
Some of the recommendations had already been implemented when former director of parks, recreation and heritage Scott Kenny retired at the end of July.
“The current position of parks and recreation Director should be filled immediately by transferring an existing senior director into that position,” the report read.
“It is proposed that recreation, culture and heritage; shared services and community development come under a director of community services.”
Former director of corporate services Theresa Kingston was transferred to the newly created community services department in October.
Kingston’s former human resources duties will fall to the city manager and a soon-to-be hired human resources assistant, Ruttan said.
Parks and facilities will no longer fall under Kingston’s department. Instead, they will be transferred to the engineering and public works department.
Council also made the decision to change the city manager role to a chief administrative officer (CAO) role to be consistent with other municipalities.
The other management change implemented while the Rogers report remained in-camera was the movement of former city manager Ken Watson to a senior projects advisor role in mid-January ahead of his retirement at the end of December 2016. Fire Chief Pley stepped in as acting city manager.
Watson will continue to receive his city manager salary of $158,778, while Pley’s salary will be bumped up to 90 per cent of the city manager salary ($11,908 per month) while he is acting CAO. Pley will continue to act as fire chief in addition to his new duties.
Ruttan, who in January said that Watson’s new role was “indirectly” related to the Rogers report, said that this was a choice made by council to pursue their goals.
“That’s a personnel matter. We want to move forward as council in a particular direction and we felt that this was something that we needed to do to move forward in that direction.”
As part of the reformatting of the community services department, Rogers recommended cutting the museum out altogether.
“The operation of the museum, a non-core service, is costly for the municipality. Most municipalities work with not-for-profit societies who govern the activities and the services provided by the museum,” Rogers recommended.
“Councils provide operational grants. If the museum services were to be delivered by a not-for-profit organization cost-savings would result, fundraising opportunities would be created, there would be greater access to government partners, and there would be increased volunteer activity.”
Coun. Denis Sauve questioned why the museum was considered a non-core service.
“I’ve been a strong advocate for protecting our heritage and our identity in Port Alberni… where does the statement come from that our museum is a non-core service?” he asked.
Ruttan said that with the “vast majority of municipalities in B.C.” working with not-for-profits in managing the museum, it was a possible cost saving avenue for the city.
The museum recommendation sparked letters from the public, including one from former executive director of the museum Jean McIntosh.
“The museum takes the smallest percentage of the city budget and for this investment the community gets exceptional value,” McIntosh wrote in a letter to city council.
“I urge mayor and council not to act on the consultant’s recommendation in regard to the museum.”
Exempt city staff benefit packages were also explored in the Rogers report as a cost saving measure.
“When the [exempt staff’s] salaries were compared with other municipal employees, the city’s exempt employees are paid on the low-end of an average wage scale,” Rogers wrote.
“The on-going costs and liabilities to the City of Port Alberni are in the benefits package. Given, the challenges to Port Alberni’s operating and capital budgets, resistant to increasing property taxes in all categories, the benefit package is not sustainable. Compared to the municipal marketplace the Port Alberni benefit package is rich.”
When asked after the meeting if reducing exempt staff benefits would reduce the calibre of applicants to management positions in an organization with an aging staff, Ruttan said he did not believe it would.
“No, we don’t worry about that at all. We believe that working for the City of Port Alberni is a very attractive position.”