Reflections on the Service Review

One perceptive public meeting participant remarked that ‘the process of turning over rocks is a painful one.’ Painful certainly, but the result of the Service Review has been a higher level of understanding of how the city works. This is useful to citizens, staff and Councillors. Kingston Electors hopes that the process continues, in an altered form and that the lessons learned are applied soon.

Several issues have arisen during the initial phase of the service review that should be addressed before the review continues or is extended to other services.

1. It appears that the city has been providing inadequate oversight of the services currently under review. The goals to be achieved have not been determined; nor has there been an evaluation to measure what has been accomplished. Beyond the review of individual services, the city needs to ensure that all services currently provided or being contemplated are subject to sufficient oversight, including clear objectives and continuing measurement and monitoring of these objectives. While making determinations on which services to save or exit, what assurance do we have that other services will not be entered – indeed, are being entered, that will have the same lack of oversight?

Recommendation: that the city immediately establish guidelines for judging any new service that is provided by any department.

2. The city’s fixed assets are suffering from capital starvation. It has been a struggle to get maintenance capital recognized as a cost in the review process. In most cases there has been an attempt to delineate the capital costs that have been incurred over the past few years. There is, however, no consistent recognition of the costs that would have been necessary to maintain the assets in the original condition OR of the costs that are necessary to meet the changing demands of the marketplace. In the final report on leasing 3% of the cost of asset replacement was added to the costs. There is no reason given for the failure to include this figure in the assessment of costs for the Lake Ontario Campground or Bell Park Golf Course. If this inadequate recognition of costs is allowed to continue – even if these costs can’t be met – there will not be a true understanding of the services the city provides. In addition the city assets will continue to decay. The failure to present these figures has left the impression that these funds are not necessary.
It is neither possible nor sensible to separate the cost of services from the costs associated with the assets that are essential to maintain those services.

Recommendation: That in any further review of services a consistent cost template be developed.

The level of distrust in the public about the ‘municipal hidden agenda’ is high. While the distrust appears to have diminished as the process moved along, the process itself is obscure to most citizens. A major effort should be made to make the process more accessible to the public before examining more services. Developing a ‘better understanding to what extent the services identified help achieve public policy goals’ is the focus of phase 1. These goals are then identified. This is an obscure process to most citizens. It was not at all clear to the public what the public meetings were meant to achieve. The process could have been facilitated instead of merely receiving the comments of the public. The public is clearly struggling to understand why for instance, the preservation of historic buildings and the development of the arts community are not considered ‘ community development’.

Recommendation: Recommendation: That a Review of the Review of Services Process be undertaken to make the process more understandable to the public prior to proceeding to any further review of services.

The consultant appears to have relied on the public meetings and the surveys to receive input from users. Users have been the most vociferous and change resistant groups represented at the meetings, as one would expect. It is a mistake however to assume that their resistance to change blinds them to the overall needs of the community. While their insights may not be apparent in the group settings, more one-on-one meetings with users would have avoided the oversights apparent in the process to date. This is particularly true of the cost and community development factors.

And finally: There has not been sufficient effort spent on trying to make this process a community building exercise. It remains potentially divisive and could have a long term damaging effect. Before continuing, the weaknesses in the process must be corrected.