Over the last month, between council meetings, council has been meeting with each individual department for strategic planning sessions. We've had three of these meetings so far, and have met with the staff of Corporate Services, Community Services, Financial Services and the Fire Department. Still to come is our largest department, Public Works.
At these meetings we're looking closely in two areas - each department's base budget, and its organizational structure. We're looking for efficiencies - efficiencies in spending, processes and personnel. As I've mentioned before, the status quo in how we do things can no longer be an assumption, and there are no sacred cows.
These sessions will provide direction to the budgeting process, allowing us to start at the real beginning of the process, rather than just tweaking proposed new expenditures to fit some predetermined target for increasing taxes, while assuming that we're going to keep on doing what we're doing whether there are better ways of doing things or not. It may have been easier and faster, but that's not why we were elected.
This is the first time in several years that we've looked at things so closely, and it's been an eye-opener for all of us on council. I've also noticed that the approach by staff is starting to change as well - they are seeing the positive implications of working more openly with council, and of the opportunities that will benefit everyone - staff and city residents - by improving the way we do things, and by improving our focus on what really is in everyone's best interests - a city where priorities are set, and work and spending follows those priorities.
Meetings have been focused, with everyone feeling free to ask questions and offer possible options. Through the process, I think that everyone on council, both the long-term veterans and the relative newcomers, have become more comfortable with the realization that while nobody has all the answers, by asking questions and thinking of alternatives, we're going to come up with a budget that will be better understood by everyone involved, because we'll have a better understanding of how it was developed, and our reasons for whatever the final decisions turn out to be.
We'll also be better equipped to answer the inevitable questions that will come from the public on our decisions. And as one of our goals is to be more open and accountable to the people who have put us in charge, we'll be better at reaching that goal as well.
"A goal without a plan is just a wish." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery