Across Alberta and Canada, municipal governments are facing ever more challenging program and fiscal policy decisions as a result of growth in population, changing societal needs and expectations and the economic slowdown – this latter issue is very real for Alberta municipalities. Over the past 18 months, Mayor and Council with the City have been deliberating approaches to enable fiscal sustainability in the municipality. The driver for such discussions stems from the need to look at how Council and Administration balance acquisition of new capital assets such as community facilities and taking care of those assets already built such as roads, concurrent to maintaining high quality service levels in a municipality that is not growing to the same levels as previously.
Administration for the City has also been exploring how to optimize Council’s time around the Corporate Planning work when it comes to the scale of decisions that require Council’s direction. The result of this governance work along with the shift in the budget challenges has led administration to evolve the Corporate Plan into a more strategic document that enables the articulation of the overview of the City, its accountabilities along with an integrated organizational approach, thus demonstrating a clear line of sight to the delivery of services and programs as well as a plan for the way forward.
To enable a more integrated approach to administration’s planning and prioritization of work in 2021 and onward, the concept of business cases within three streams of work or “strategic portfolios” was designed. The business cases take a holistic approach to presenting the full picture of work required at a program scale level. They also incorporate interdependencies, preliminary performance indicators, outcomes, benefits and risks. By using business cases to identify those pieces of work outside of core programs and services, administration is able to focus on critical pieces of work holistically (versus a listing of activities) and evaluate the benefits and risks of proceeding/not proceeding, looking at how to strategically integrate the work into existing budgets or proceed to discuss additional funding or resource requirements with Council.
The evolving Corporate Plan also introduces the concept of performance measurement as an accountability tool and moves away from service listings. This is not to say that the City does not continue with service level requirements and policies, but rather the efficacy of those services at an organization level will be examined from an integrated performance lens that is focused on the triple bottom-line of sustainability.
Another significant shift in the Corporate Plan is around the budget deliberations. Historically the budget that would be brought forward to Council for deliberations would be “balanced” with the introduction of recommended revenue strategies such as tax increases, fee increases, etc. along with the offsetting increases to expenditures. As a result of the challenge that COVID-19 has brought about combined with the economic downturn that has been ongoing prior to the pandemic, administration recognized the need for a robust discussion with council regarding which revenue levers they wanted to consider concurrent to which significant expenditures they felt was priority. Additionally, the budget that will be presented to Council will have an operational component and a capital component. This breakout of the previously consolidated presentation is provided to maximize transparency from decisions made that impact one or both of those budget streams and to ensure the implications of capital costs are fully presented.