Dr. Laurence J. Peter was familiar with the subject of maintaining the status quo as explored in his 1968 formulation of The Peter Principle.
Any Auroran who has paid attention to local politics in the past 10 years is also familiar with the status quo, so much so that I’m surprised it’s not emblazoned onto our welcome signs : "Aurora, home of the status quo".
Recently I’ve read a handful of letters to the editor questioning the value in having several members of Aurora council attending the recent annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Vancouver last month.
It is appropriate that the common concern in all of these letters is fiscal responsibility as that appears to be one of, if not the main focus of this year’s conference.
A report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) outlines how spending is outstripping growth at a rate of between 3 to eight times, and that the spending problem is not confined to the largest cities.
In an on-line summary posted here: http://www.cfib-fcei.ca/english/article/5188-three-cities-release.html it reports from 2000 to 2011, city staff in all Canadian municipalities increased by 25 per cent, more than double population growth
No wonder Aurora town hall is busting at the seams, and the region offices are as well.
As this spending is not even remotely sustainable some big changes will need to be made in the immediate future to ensure fical sustainability.
The Mowat Centre and the School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Toronto, supported by KPMG released a roadmap for exactly this titled "Fiscal Sustainability & The Future of Public Services", it can be found here: http://www.kpmg.com/Ca/en/IssuesAndInsights/ArticlesPublications/Documents/Shifting%20Gears.pdf
Although it isn’t a particularly long document instead of extracting several points under different themes one over riding message should suffice:
Canadian governments should begin to fundamentally revisit how they deliver public services. The models they rely on are creaking under the weight of public expectations, entrenched stakeholder interest, and shrinking fiscal capacity. Old business models should be questioned.
For those who believe in the future of public services, now is not the time for Canadians and their governments to hug the status quo.
And hug the status quo seems to be Toronto’s strategy as Ontario sets out to increase its contributions to Toronto’s operating budget by $110 Million dollars by 2016 it is phasing out a nearly $150 Million dollar anual Toronto Pooling Compensation fund.
Instead of accepting and understanding the pressures and looking to, oh I don’t know stop the gravy train, Mayor Ford is getting all pissy about the change his city is facing, you can read a recent Toronto Star piece here: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2013/06/23/toronto_mayor_rob_ford_makes_a_poor_case_for_continued_provincial_funding_editorial.html
Where was the outrage when it was discovered that Toronto’s most recent computer scandal has jumped up to a $70 million spend:
Aurora’s home version of this was the $400,000 + spend on an Asset Management piece of software that has yet to be implemented.
If that wasn’t cause for alarm the findings of an audit from last November should. The Error Banner reported an external auditor had serious concerns over deficiencies within the municipality’s finance department. You can read it here:
"Without proper oversight and appropriate resources in place, there is an increased risk of errors in the financial information of the town.”
Given the expensive failing in procurement and implementation, compounded with deficiencies in the finance department Aurora has no reason to hug the status quo.
In fact, it has every reason to question the sustainability of its business models as it begins to eye the 2014 budget.
In a post from November of 212 Clr. Buck summed up the unsustainable spending decisions made around the council table during those budget deliberations here:
"Cash from taxes is allocated to a reserve account, when we spend it, it has no direct impact of funding thecapital budget.
That’s like dipping a hand into the taxpayer’s pocket, taking out every last penny in there, putting it into a tin box , then taking it out of the tin box to spend it, arguing it didn’t come out of your pocket in the first place.
So it doesn’t have an impact on the taxes you pay.
It’s there in writing.
I am not making it up.
I look around the table for a glimmer of realisation of lack of reason .
I see none."
That certainly doesn’t fill me with confidence that Aurora can escape the warm and familiar embrace of the status quo and begin upon a new path towards sustainability.
To ultimately determine if the FCM conference was worth the price of admission we’ll have to wait and see if there’s any glimmer of realization around the council table so as not to repeat the shortcomings of the 2013 budget.