City of Trail undertakes unique initiatives to cut costs

Trail city council is now well advanced into its review of the 2011 budget, which must be approved by May 15, and as chair of the city’s general government/finance committee, I would like to provide residents with an update on this year’s progress.

Each year, council is faced with the difficult challenge of approving a budget that balances the needs of the city from a service, infrastructure and sustainability perspective with the need to try to keep property taxes and any increase at a reasonable level.

Property taxes account for 76 per cent of the city’s revenue in its general operating fund and council carefully reviews the impacts that the city’s budget will have on homeowners and businesses alike.

As part of the review, consideration is also given to the long-term implications of the decisions that are made.

Sometimes municipal councils can take a short-term approach to budgeting and in the absence of a solid financial plan may make decisions that are not in the best interest of the community in the long-run.

For the most part, Trail council has not fallen into this trap and the city maintains a strong financial position and has managed to sustain and improve the majority of the services provided.

Each year when the budget is advanced, there are identified cost pressures and real increases in costs that must be accounted for if services are to be maintained.

In response, these costs can be passed along directly through property tax increases, services can be reduced, the city’s operations can be reviewed in the hopes of finding cost savings or certain aspects of operations can be modified in the hopes of improving efficiency and effectiveness.

In 2011, the city was able to amend its purchasing practice dealing with natural gas and now purchases through a broker based on the daily spot rate.

This transition alone from a previously fixed rate is anticipated to save the city in excess of $100,000 annually and will therefore mitigate the final property tax increase in 2011.

The natural gas market is monitored and if any significant increases are anticipated, the city would move to lock in at a low rate for a period of time to protect against future increases.

Another significant initiative undertaken is the installation of global positioning systems in the city’s mobile fleet.

The system is capable of measuring everything — from distance traveled, where the vehicle has traveled, idle times and speed.  Using this data, service should be improved and operating costs reduced.

One specific area being closely monitored is idling. The city has adopted an anti-idling policy and with GPS, idling can now be directly tracked.

The city spends close to $150,000 a year for fuel and this new tool along with increased operator awareness could save the city 15 per cent to 20 per cent in fuel charges.

One final project of note in 2011 is an upgrade to the Trail Aquatic and Leisure Centre.  After 15 years of use, there is an urgent need to upgrade the heating, ventilation and air handling in the facility as well as to repair some building envelope issues.

After the project is completed, it is hoped that energy consumption at the facility will be reduced by as much as 70 per cent and could reduce operating costs at the facility by as much as $100,000 annually.

In addition, this will greatly reduce the city’s carbon footprint as part of the requirement for the city to be carbon-neutral by 2012.

Council’s review of the budget will continue over the next two months before the financial plan bylaw is advanced for council to officially approve the 2011 budget in May.

In the interim, the public is most welcome to provide input as part of the public consultation process that is underway. Additional information on the budget can be found on the city’s website (www.trail.ca), at City Hall or at the Trail Library.

Jack Balfour is a Trail city councillor. A Fruitvale politician will write next week.