The City of Penticton is joining forces with nearby governance organizations seeking areas where they can create efficiencies with shared services.
Last week, Penticton, Summerland, the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen and the Okanagan Skaha School District issued a joint request for proposals, seeking a consultant to research areas where shared services would result in efficiencies for all.
“The same taxpayer is paying for someone to mow the lawn and what difference does it make if they work for the city or they work for the school board?” said Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit, noting that a single entity could be responsible for cutting all the lawns in the city, or even the district.
“It seems so simple, but we always get bogged down on turf wars, no pun intended,” said Jakubeit noting that concerns range from job losses to administrative difficulties. “They use that as an excuse or barrier to not take it past just a conversation.”
A third-party consultant, Jakubeit explained, should be able to look at the situation with an unbiased eye and find opportunities for shared savings.
“It might be with our phone system, everyone uses the same phone system, or GIS mapping or computer software. We all have our own computer networks; maybe one of the entities has all the servers,” said Jakubeit, noting that with modern information technology, there is no need for servers to be in the same building as the user.
“Instead of spending 300,000 every couple of years on server backbone, we all share in that.”
The RFP specifies the focus should be on how local authorities can improve service delivery within existing operations and should not consider outsourcing. The consultant will look at both internal services like human resources, information technology and procurement, as well as external; bylaw, permitting, public works and maintenance.
“I don’t think any of these shared services really result in significant changes to staff, they are more efficiencies for capital and to some degree, operational (budgets),” said Jakubeit. “That is really where some of these big ticket costs are and big savings are.”
Between Oct. 7 and the end of the year, the consultant is expected to come up with recommendations on how the authorities could work together to achieve lower costs and higher levels of service, along with identifying two areas suitable for a pilot project, expected to take place from January 2017 to September.
“They will look at some baby steps where you can test this model or theory. It is not happening overnight where you are all of a sudden going to have this massive switchover,” said Jakubeit. “Within a 15-minute drive, you have the city, you have the regional district, the school board, and we have Summerland.
“Surely there has to be some savings, because there are overlaps in all those.”