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Penny Ballem’s memo to staff re cost-cutting

February 13th, 2009 · 21 Comments

And here’s the memo from city manager, as promised earlier this week

From:   COV Broadcast Server
Sent:   Friday, February 13, 2009 3:27 PM
To:     All Staff (COV) – DL
Subject:        COV Broadcast – Memorandum from City Manager – Human Resource Measures


I am writing to you as the impacts of the ongoing global economic crisis begin to be felt more fully in the province generally, and the city specifically. As many of you will be aware, both the federal and provincial governments will be running deficits in their annual budgets for the first time in many years. As a municipality, the City of Vancouver does not have that option. Each year we are required, by law, to produce a balanced budget, showing exactly how we are going to fund all of the activities, initiatives and services on which the City intends to spend money.

A significant portion of the funding for our annual operating budget comes from revenues associated with development activity in our city. Most of the rest comes from residential and business property taxes. Due to the sharp decline in development over the past several months, associated revenues have dropped precipitously. This is well beyond what we had predicted as we were building budget forecasts. If we continue with “business as usual”, it would mean that Vancouver taxpayers could face a property tax increase of approximately 11% or more.

In order not to place such a burden on our taxpayers, City Council has instructed me to look across all agencies, entities and departments of the City (including Vancouver Police, Parks, Library, PNE, etc) and take any steps necessary to produce a revised operating budget that will “protect taxpayers and mitigate any compromise of key City services”. In short, to rethink the way we do business.

As a first step, I have implemented, effective immediately, a general freeze on hiring for all staff positions. I understand this is a disruptive and disconcerting measure, however it is a critically important step to first, understand our current staffing pressures, and then, to determine how we can best restructure and reorganize our resources to better meet our key business priorities.

I also understand how important it is that managers and supervisors have clear, consistent information upon which to base their staffing direction and decisions. This afternoon, our Human Resources department will be providing to senior managers detailed guidelines related to vacancies, overtime, travel and training, external contracts and many of the other important resource management questions you have.  You can also e-mail your questions to [email protected].

For the most part, any exemptions to this freeze will be limited to positions that are critical to health and safety, required by statute, fully cost recovered through external funding, or key to the priorities of Council. However, even these requests for exemptions will require a firm business case that demonstrates how we are acting in the most cost-effective and efficient manner to meet both Council priorities and public service needs.

I know that some of you, unfortunately, will be in positions that will not be renewed or extended due to these measures. Collective agreements will be respected, and the city will be working hard to help make transitions in a supportive manner.

Change is difficult.  It is also particularly hard when it happens in such a volatile economic climate. But change is necessary if we are to adapt our business to new realities. As we move forward, I know that many of you will bring innovative ideas and creative solutions on how we can work smarter, and how we can improve the way in which we provide our excellent services to the citizens of Vancouver. In fact, many of you have shared some of those thoughts with me already, and I look forward to hearing more.

I know that working together we can exceed the high expectations that we have set for ourselves as public servants, and I appreciate your commitment and support.

Penny Ballem, MD FRCP
City Manager

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