In the past few weeks the tone has shifted considerably at the District offices and on Council. The new Council has now settled into its role and is actively engaging tasks as if routine. The new committee structure has been set-up and Council liaison relationships have been established. Sechelt’s new Council, in my opinion, is fully operational.
We spend our time dealing with the day to day issues that have arisen since the election, meanwhile working to improve administrative functions. Many old issues exist, and some new have been brought forward, as the community responds to its new Council.
Bill Beamish has settled in as interim CAO and staff are responding positively to this change. Mr. Beamish continues to provide an experienced, steady hand in this time of transition.
In the midst of all these daily activities, we are carrying out 3 major additional undertakings:
- 4 year strategic plan
- Finalising our 2015 Budget
- ‘Organizational Review’
Together these projects constitute the clearest definition to date about where this council is headed.
What follows are my current perspectives on all three major undertakings for Sechelt in 2015.
4 Year Strategic Plan
An organization’s strategic plan is a vastly important document that outlines the broad trajectory of action to be undertaken. The content of this document has wide-reaching implications, and consequently, I took its drafting very seriously.
Sechelt’s 2015 strategic plan is being facilitated by local consultant Mr. John Talbot. Mr. Talbot hosted a session with Council on Feb 7 in which initial ideas were collated into themes. I came with a ready prepared flow chart of my ‘best case’ for a 4 year outcome. I presented my ideas to councillors, engaged in discussion, and continue to receive their feedback.
I have my own strong opinions about where we are headed and what progress will look like for Sechelt. My position, as a voice for younger generations, has led me to focus on our inability to maintain current spending levels, exemplified by our structural deficit (~3.5 million annually). For those unfamiliar with the term ‘structural deficit’, please consider the following definition offered by the Financial Times.
Future generations are going to need swift action from today’s council to address our ‘structural deficit’ if future service levels are to be as high as today’s. I consequently focused my vision on a plan that will begin to address this deficit over 4 years, and hope to receive Council’s endorsement for an action plan aimed towards these ends.
The budget process for Sechelt in 2015 has been uniquely challenging for both staff and Council. Most of the budget outline was completed before the Nov. 15 election and has consequently needed much engagement of our new Council to work towards approval.
The current Council has chosen to go through a complete ‘zero-base’ budgeting process which refers to a ‘line-by-line’ approval of each item. I have been a voice in support of this extended process and consider it the most appropriate route towards 2015 budget approval.
Additionally, I have found the extended budget process very helpful in my orientation. I, along with other members of council, am now intimately familiar with every expense on the list. I have an in depth understanding of where the money comes from and where it goes to in our community administration. It is unlikely that we will need to go through this extended process in future budgets, but it has certainly aided our transition period.
After careful review, it is my opinion that the 2015 Budget Outline overspends current District of Sechelt resources. This budget, after all, includes a structural deficit of $3,574,100 in 2015, and continues upwards to $3,609,841 over the following 4 years. This deficit occurs in the context of Sechelt now having the lowest capital reserve levels in years, which I clearly see as putting our community at future financial risk.
It is for this reason that I am actively working towards an agreement among councillors to make diminishing our structural deficit a guiding principle in our upcoming ‘4 year Strategic Plan’.
The ‘organizational review’ process is an independent audit of our organization and governance capabilities to be undertaken by Perivale and Taylor Consulting Inc.
Council has allotted $50,000 to complete the project and expects a final report in May/June 2015.
Sechelt has received an additional performance audit from the Auditor General for Local Government under the topic “Learnings from Local Government Capital Procurement Projects and Asset Management Programs”. The results of this audit are expected to be made public in early April.
The final report of our organizational review will include perspectives contained in both our 4 year strategic plan and the Auditor General’s report, as well as our strategic planning sessions. It will therefore be a comprehensive document that outlines our current state and potential future directions.
I see the review as being essential in responsibly charting a new direction for Sechelt, and voted for the project to proceed.
My quote from our initial strategic planning session sums up my feelings on the combined impact of all these matters:
“Sechelt has an uphill battle ahead in maintaining daily service levels, while undergoing rapid internal changes”
We are currently still in need of a permanent CAO and Director of Development services, and we have many core policy and administrative projects to complete. We also have a longstanding structural deficit and the need to rebuild our reserves over time.
Alongside the basic daily functioning of our District, these goals represent significant productive achievements for our community that we can be proud about.
If we can accomplish these changes, and additionally produce a working economic development plan in 4 years, as is our stated aim, I will certainly feel we have been successful as a council.
The challenges are large, but we are up to the task. Thankfully, a clear path through this wilderness is becoming clear, and we are finding the courage to follow it.