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Cost-cutting memo expected at city hall by end of week

February 10th, 2009 · 28 Comments

We (my, myself and I) hear there are lots of rumblings about what the new economic chill at city hall is going to mean. City manager Penny Ballem is apparently moving at lightning speed to push the trimming plan into action asap. That means that, by the end of the week, staff are expecting more detailed announcements on what hiring freezes mean (i.e. just new positions, anything that’s currently in competition, etc), what kinds of services might start to be shared among the now separate fiefdoms of city hall, police, library and parks, and so on.

Accounting, human resources, communications and other service departments, which are now maintained separately, are the kinds of departments that might become shared. As well, the announcement later this week will also make it clear whether people who have already been offered jobs will get to take them (likely) and whether current competitions will be allowed to continue to hiring (unlikely).

As you can imagine, unhappy employees are coming up with their own suggestions for saving money. One that I’ve heard is making the rounds: Trim the fleet cars, largely used by management and supervisors who are allowed to take them home. Instead, those people can drive their own cars and be paid mileage.

Anonymous city employees are welcome to post more suggestions here.

Categories: City Hall Talk

  • Rebecca

    I hope that the City Manager and the Mayor will also do something with their own offices to share in the upcoming “pain” that staff will be feeling?

    I agree with the fact that there are some upcoming retirements but they need to ensure that the information transfer is somehow done. There is an enormous amount of knowledge in the older employees and to just “show them the door” is not protecting the City.

    What about the City Manager taking a pay cut? Let’s face it…that is the biggest pay cheque in the region!

    I’m sure if they turned this into a more interesting exercise (i.e. let staff make some suggestions), that the morale issues that they are having won’t be as strong as they are.

  • Ideas

    I think the City Manager taking a voluntary pay cut would be a great symbolic move, but wouldn’t save much money.

    In my opinion, not enough money is spent (or available) in some departments, while too much is spent (or available) in others.

    One of the major problems with the way the city is organized is that it is divided into fiefdoms (not just separate agencies like parks and libraries, but within the city itself), each with their own service staffs and consultants, and each with their own way of doing things. It’s completely inefficient and inconsistent to do things this way, but it allows departments to have more control, which is probably why it’s done this way.

    By centralizing some of the services, departments would lose power but taxpayers will save a lot of money.

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  • Not running for mayor

    I know that the firehalls are run by VFD which is funded by the city while the ambulance stations are run by BCAS which is funded by the province. But still it strikes me as there would be some decent cost savings if they could share space, not to mention they wouldn’t need to both attend the same calls. Of course I imagine this is much easier said then done.

  • City Hall Insider

    You have to look take a serious look at our middle management. I can save you a half million dollars by eliminating some positions of the top of my head without any effect to taxpayer services.
    Take a look at the previous City’s administration strategy: They created a whole lot of management positions to enable them to run during the next strike.
    They formed a post strike committee to review areas where they were weak in the 2007 strike and exempted a bunch of positions to prepare for the next one.
    Averaging over $ 20000 per person per year increase with the nice management package they have for the exempts. With no increase in service to the taxpayer.
    Let us not forget the “extra” 3% they gave themselves on top of matching the wage that the unions got on top of the thousands of dollors in overtime they got.

    Retention issues they claimed.
    And they wonder why we shake our heads around here.
    Any fellow city hallers reading this can contact the union as we are compiling a list for submissions. This is our chance to truly make some change at the hall.

  • Blaffergassted

    We like what City Hall Insider suggests.

  • Larry Campbell

    How about putting services out to bid?

  • mm

    Don’t you ever wonder why when public sector employers, like the city, talk about cutting 20% of the non-union workforce, why they don’t ask their own employees, “would you rather roll the dice and see who goes if we cut 20% of the people, OR, how about everyone take a 20% paycut?.”
    Any “communications” person making $120k plus pension, doesn’t have a hope in hell of making that much in the private sector (not to mention the fat pension). Given the choice between no job and a 100k job with fat pension, wouldn’t most choose the latter?

  • TaxPayer

    I agree with “Insider”. I have worked in a number of institutions that get very top-heavy and manger-overload for just the reasons outlined. It’s short-sited thinking.

    Fleet cars for mangers? NO FW Jose! Give those back. Use your own cars. And all Mangers should take a 3% pay cut, for duration of 2009 and 201o and 2011. High level Mangers take a 5% cut… lead by example

  • Clam Chowderhead

    Interesting that Vision made the incamera meetings a big deal during the last election but they are doing the exact same. Maybe they realized some meetings can’t be public at the time…. Ironic

    Here is the outline for tomorrow special meeting.

    THAT Council will go into a meeting later this day which is closed to the public, pursuant to Section 165.2(1) of the Vancouver Charter, to discuss matters related to paragraph(s):

    (i) the receipt of advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose;

    (k) negotiations and related discussions respecting the proposed provision of an activity, work or facility that are at their preliminary stages and that, in the view of the Council, could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the city if they were held in public.

  • Wagamuffin

    Apparently, the cuts start at the bottom.

    Tried to call through the switchboard at 1pm or so…no receptionist after I impatiently hit ‘O’ after going through the maddingly incomplete electronic system.

    Can someone please tell me where they hide the employee directory??? Yikes. Just try to find someone there. I dare ya.

  • City Hall Insider

    Try calling 311. Sam spent 11 million on that new layer of fat we do not need.

  • Not Running for mayor

    While there’s no doubt the 311 service will cost higher then it should, I for one will appreaciate it. That is if it works as planned, the current system is impossible, wonder if they’ll save money by all that space in the blue pages.

    I’d like to see the VPD switch to something like the prius over the crown vics, they would suffice and are cheaper to purchase and much cheaper to run (taxis run their cars just as hard and they’ve switched). They could still call in the paddywagons for arrests as they don’t need to carry people in the back of the cruisers anyways.
    While tradition is fine and dandy I think they could scrap the mounted division and switch the stanley park officers onto mountain bikes. Instead of cutting the police budget though take that savings and put a few more officers on the street.

  • Sharon Townsend

    check out Quickfind on the city website. there is also

  • fbula

    Here are some cost-cutting suggestions that I got through an email sent to my address.

    Re: cost-cutting, one of the topics also making the rounds is the ballooning number of exempt staff, especially in some of the operations branches. I’ve lost track of how many superintendents are in charge of street cleaning and emptying litter cans, for example. The City Manager could be looking at cutting some of the more recent exempt-staff hirings, or so people say.

    Another rumbling in Engineering revolves around some of the branches which deviate from the quintessentially nuts-and-bolts issues of streets, water and sewers. Specifically branches that are often mentioned are

    (1) Greenways, which is perceived to receive a disproportionate amount of the budget to deal with “fluff” issues such as benches and bike lanes (the idea being that while these are nice, they are not essential, at least to the same degree as having adequate roads and sewers are essential)

    (2) Engineering Records Management, whose primary tasks revolve around managing records of correspondences (a task duplicated by the City Clerk’s Office, as well as various City-wide systems available to all branches) and sorting e-mails received through the Engineering department’s generic address. Again, not something deemed essential by many, especially considering the high degree to which they misdirect inquiries (at least in our corner of the Engineering world)

    Also re: fleet cars, they seemed to be facing an cut even before all this financial doom and gloom, since from its introduction early last year, the Employee Mobility Program (aka Sustainable Commuting Program aka Pay Parking) made it clear that the City was looking to shift away from owning fleet vehicles to having exclusive usage of a stable of vehicles from an existing car-sharing co-op during business hours.

  • Wagamuffin

    Thanks, Sharon.

    Wow, my crush, David Cadman’s number is there!

    Hmm, I wonder if his refrigerator is running…

  • Rebecca

    It’s too bad that those one or two unionized workers have to make such useless comments about management. Be part of the solution, not the problem, people! It’s 2009 not 2007 so get your brains beyond the strike. Make some real suggestions instead of looking to create constant strife and a split. Think outside the box!! Just on a side note, not all exempt staff make huge $$. I know quite a few who make less than the private sector.

    I agree with Ideas. The City is split into Divisions run by the GM’s. Decentralize those depts that should be more central..accounting, human resources to name a few. Engineering by having their own file management dept I just never understood. There is absolutely a huge duplication taking place.

    311 is an excellent idea. Have you been on the phone while calling City Hall being tossed around from dept to dept while each employee has no clue as to where they should transfer you? It’s ridiculous! That should also help “flag” some of those positions that aren’t doing much except answering the phones (and not having a clue as to where you should be transferred even though they’ve been answering phones for over 20 years).

    The Employee Mobility Program will charge staff $6 per day to park but incentives are returned by way of discounted bus tickets, etc. This will undoubtedly have quite a few staff looking for work elsewhere considering they’re introducing this before Canada Line opens (go supportive of staff!!).

  • Beatmaster

    I have worked at City Hall for 20 years and I can tell you most departments are way overstaffed. There are some good people at City Hall but most are lazy and wouldn’t last 5 minutes in the real world. You could cut the staff in half and divide the work amongst those left and there would be no change in the level of service.

  • spartikus

    Be part of the solution, not the problem, people! It’s 2009 not 2007 so get your brains beyond the strike. Make some real suggestions instead of looking to create constant strife and a split.

    The suggestion has been made the rapid growth in exempt middle management is not cost effective. If you want to refute that, then perhaps you should display why they are.

    Just an idea that might help make you part of the solution.

  • jaymac

    Suggestion 1:
    I note that posts from Beatmaster and City Hall Insider, both City employees, are time stamped during normal working hours. Were these posts sent using City computers, City time? I used to maintain a large mailing list related to a recreational activity. The majority of participants who had public sector jobs used their employer based email address and had no difficulty responding during ‘company’ time. That’s a huge area of waste and expense.
    Suggestion 2:
    Ask the users (we the public) of City services for input re savings.
    Suggestion 3:
    Evaluate the number of ongoing and new studies done by depts such as Planning and ask if they are really necessary. Unlike the private sector where people can’t ‘invent’ work, City employees upon completing one study task can then get authorization to initiate another.
    Suggestion 4:
    Reduce the number of overseers and the level of detail they go into. Place some trust in outsiders.
    Suggestion 5:
    Privatize services that can be rendered by others without any compromise to City standards. Example – garbage collection.

    The opportunities are endless.

  • jaymac

    One more thing- institute clear and reasonable guidelines within employment contracts re severance payments. The amounts which we are lead to believe have been paid out recently are outlandish. Doubtless Penny Ballem has already enshrined what hers will be.

  • spartikus

    I note that posts from Beatmaster and City Hall Insider, both City employees, are time stamped during normal working hours.

    Time stamps are 4 hours ahead – I wrote my previous comment at 8am, not 12pm, for example. CHI also clearly wrote their comment in the evening, in spite of the 4 hour difference.

    But this begs the question of whether jaymac left a comment on their employer’s time….

  • jaymac

    Spartikus said “But this begs the question of whether jaymac left a comment on their employer’s time….”

    Thanks for the tip re the timestamp. As to your question, it was not unexepcted. I write on my own time. Actually, it seems I write 4 hrs in the future, which is still my time!!!

    Spartikus, another tip please – how do you change the fonts to italics when quoting? Apologies for being off point here.

  • pete

    I just hope the city will continue to recruit and hire talented people. A significant drop in revenue is certainly a time to look at where money could be better spent, but I hope those compensations do not come at the expense of new and innovative ideas.

  • spartikus

    Re: Italics

    You can use html tags in the comments. I’ve also use Firefox and have installed the Text Formatting toolbar plugin. Thus you can highlight a piece of text and simply push the italic button.

  • td

    There has never been the will at City Hall to be frugal about resources. Nobody questions engineering standards in light of cost (do we need bombproof concrete curbs everywhere?), or public consultation in light of staff involvement (does CityPlan earn its keep?), or capital projects in light of scope (the proposal for the dog pound?), or development permit conditions in light of the burden they place on the applicant.

    There’s been too much money, and too much willingness to spend it. And that damn world class city hype.

  • jaymac

    [i]I’ve also use Firefox and have installed the Text Formatting toolbar plugin.[/i]
    Spartikus – thanks

  • foo

    What would really be refreshing is a focus on providing good service to the average citizen of Vancouver. But I guess that doesn’t really register on anyone’s list of priorities.