Plenty of money woes at City Hall
It was supposed to get better, but it didn’t. A recent audit pointed out how much was spent at City Hall on consulting services. The bill came in at almost $600 million over the five years from 2015 to 2019.
That’s over and above what was found in 2017 by a whopping 32 percent.
Tracking the money was difficult, as entries were miscoded, the audit reports. “As a result financial reporting related to the City’s consulting expenses has been inaccurate by $245 million in total over the last five years.”
An overwhelming segment of this consulting work is for capital projects as outside engineers, architects or other technical experts are brought in, because the expertise is not “in house” among city staff.
Why it’s done this way
Senior management with the city will explain this as saying the scope of a project will grow, so the contracts will be extended as an additional year or two will be added to the overall work.
The premise is also that outside consultants are overall less expensive, as they are paid on a per-project basis, and cheaper than having individuals on staff permanently.
Yet I can see problems continuing to get worse, not better. What got me wanting to put my name forward to be part of the next city council was an earlier audit this past fall that you’ve all heard about, where city auditor David Wiun was critical of the “managers managing managers” syndrome that has grown at City Hall.
A chance for a fresh start on spending priorities
I’m hoping the top to bottom review of City Hall budgets, brought on because of the COVID-19 reassessment of what is priority spending and what isn’t, will reduce financial pressure and mean only those projects that are considered of utmost importance will go ahead.
We already know that a three year drop in the construction grant the province gives cities, the Municipal Sustainability Initiative [MSI] is taking a $150 million chunk out of Edmonton’s budget.
That cut is on top of the agreement that was in place between the city, and the province, but was ripped up unilaterally by the Kenney government a couple of years ago when the money woes hit under the dome.
What is clear, is there is not a lot of money around to be had, so focused decisions will need to be made on spending priorities over the next four years.
It doesn’t mean saying “no” to every proposal. Each project should be judged on if it brings value. If there is a way to run buses from the new Heritage Valley transit centre and park’n’ride to the Century Park LRT more efficiently then the investment should gain council approval.
In many ways, since the money simply won’t be there council should say “yes” to the projects that make sense.