I watched the Rogers marolty debate the other night between Don Darling, Bill Farren, Patty Higgins, Shelley Rinehart and Howard Yeomans. I woild have to say from where I sat the entire exercise was less than inspiring. If the five had have been playing dart I question whether they would have hit the dart board let alone the bull’s eye. Don’t get me wrong I believe they are sincere however swinging at the ball is not the same as “hitting” the ball.
Away back in Feb 2011 I wrote and article entitle the Accountability Framework. In that article I referred to Frontier Centre for Public Policy’s National Municipality Transparency Index. Saint John rated last on a list of 133 cities. Last out of 133 cities? There was a message here folks.
Here is what I found on the Saint John City website: “The City of Saint John is committed to demonstrating accountability to our residents and taxpayers. In June of 2008, Common Council adopted an accountability framework that is designed to support our efforts to provide effective and efficient service delivery. The accountability framework is comprised of three key components – strategic planning, performance management and public reporting. It identifies processes for:
* Setting clear objectives through strategic planning or policy development;
* Identifying measures to track the progress towards stated objectives;
* Measuring performance;
* Communicating performance results to the public and other stakeholders through regular reporting;
* Comparing performance to desired results; and
* Realigning or eliminating service offerings to enhance or improve service delivery with the goal of better addressing the needs of the public.”
That was eight years ago. Are we there yet? Have performance standards for all levels of the city’s 800 plus employees been put in place and are they being measured?
You don’t have to be an efficiency expert to realize that if one employee takes two days to do a job that should have been done in one day, the cost is twice as great as it should have been, and will translate into a higher cost for services delivered.
Bench marking, there’s that nasty word again. There are performance standards for virtually all industries and sectors. At the very least every municipality has the opportunity to measure itself against its peers. One method would be to express the cost of municipal services delivered by dividing the population into the 2016 annual operating budget to provide service costs per person. So let’s compare report cards:
* Rothesay – $1,397 per person per year;
* Quispamsis – $1,269 per person per year;
* Grand Bay/Westfield – $1162 per person per year;
* Hampton – $1,303 per person per year; (approx)
* Saint John – $2,157 per person per year.
It’s not enough to compare the cost of services delivered – it is also necessary to compare the quality of those services. Would I expect Saint John’s cost per person to be comparable to the surrounding municipalities? Absolutely not. However, costs have to be low enough for Saint John to be an effective competitor in retaining or building on its population base and business base. The two objectives mentioned by all mayoralty candidates during the Rogers televised session. A new Mayor and Common Council trying to tinker and tune City Hall to make us more competitive is not going to work. Anything short of a major overhaul at City Hall will yield the same results we have seen for the past few decades, a declining population and businesses.
When folks are shopping around for a home don’t you think they take a close look at what each municipality has to offer as well as the cost of services delivered? The quality of service? Long term residential appreciation and or depreciation? You bet your bottom dollar they do and that is why communities like Rothesay, Quispamsis and Grandbay/Westfield have been growing.
Roughly five years ago I drove past the once-thriving Co-Op store on the west side. It’s demise was not instantaneous, the erosion of customers happened over several years. As more aggressive competitors moved into the city the Co-Op store failed to reinvent itself. Customers switched to competitors offering better prices, better service and better value. The same erosion has been has been happening to Saint John. Therein lies the message for Saint John’s aspiring slate of would be Councilors and Mayor……. should they choose to listen.