Will a metro county and city find taxpayer savings that could also help Edmonton?
(Editors note: This first ran November 30, 2020 before Scott declared his candidacy)
Strathcona County and the City of Fort Saskatchewan are teaming up to study new ways to share staff and services. And depending how things go, the combination of the two municipalities could save millions of taxpayer dollars each year.
It’s potentially a more aggressive step from what we’ve already seen with recreational facilities in Metro Edmonton. Spruce Grove, Stony Plain and Parkland County pooling resources to build the Tri-Leisure Centre, which opened in 2003.
And in January of 2020, Edmonton and St. Albert city councils agreed to cooperate on a 59-acre site in west St. Albert for a future rec centre. At the time, St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron told me the potential was there to build it to serve the two cities while the Lewis Farms rec centre was on hold.
How much money can be saved?
Strathcona Mayor Rod Frank released a consultants report from Tantus and MNP that identifies areas of local government work that includes “services and service delivery, finances and taxes, growth and quality of life,” that can be improved with new and collaborative governance models.
The report says the low hanging fruit is when staff from the participating municipalities share advice, and even partner in “group purchasing.” What you see less often, but can be a money saver is when service providers team up for things like permit inspectors working in both municipalities. The report even suggests part-time positions can be merged to create more cost-effective full-time staff.
Metro area developers have called on all municipalities to reduce the amount of time it takes to green light projects, because delays are the biggest reason you see costs driven up.
The report calls on all parties involved to create “clear goals”.
“Approximately 20 per cent of capital spending could be avoided by greater collaboration and coordination between municipalities,” the report said.
There’s gotta be something in it for everyone
This past spring Strathcona County voted “no” to joining the emerging Transit Commission that proposed bringing together 13 municipalities. Mayor Frank at the time said there was not enough cost savings on what is a $100 million budget item for the county.
Strathcona County currently employs 175 staff to provide transit services through a fleet of 90 buses and four transit facilities. The feeling is, right now the county already has a strong enough service without investing more across the metro region.
The consultant’s report said between Strathcona County and the City of Fort Saskatchewan, staff efficiency gains, capital cost avoidance and procurement savings could net as much as $36 million a year for those two municipalities.
The concept behind the report where municipalities team up for a shared investment for a shared reward in both costs and services has the makings of something much bigger metro-wide. Here’s hoping the new councils in 2021 across the region explore pilot projects to gauge the potential.