Kudos to Mr. Doucette ("Business 101") and Max ("Cinching Up Once Again") for their perspectives last week on the Whistler municipal tax scene.
Having been a city manager in three major Canadian cities (the smallest being over 100,000 pop.) as well as having been a business owner in Alberta, and now being about to retire to Whistler after having a home there for years, I recall always being told by the municipal administration of each city at first instance that there was no fat to cut and services had to shrink. Nonetheless, we were always able to find significant ongoing annual savings in each community where I worked (from over $1.5 million in savings in the smallest community to over $70 million in savings in the largest one).
There was no magic to it and it was not due to any brilliance on my part. It took a committed team of staff and council to get it done. It was a combination of deferring some infrastructure maintenance and acquisition (admittedly not all of which were a great idea, but we were charged in those days with "zero per cent tax increases"), not immediately filling vacancies, checking every supervisory position to see why exactly those below needed such supervision ("paying checkers to check others who check others"), comparing inside costs against similar outside costs (in-house vehicle maintenance versus a deal with an outside lube shop for example), doing an analysis of our fees charged and the cost of those services and then seeing to what extent we were subsidizing each area etc.
We started with the "big ticket" costs like transit, emergency services etc. We also looked at what was a minimum return on each transit route (e.g. if revenues did not at least cover a set portion of the cost of the run, it became an endangered route).
We also looked at things like men's hockey, and discovered we were heavily subsidizing their ice time, when that group could afford to pay the actual cost.
We also looked at our processes and discovered, for example, that we had three staff positions to process payables of under $10,000. So, instead we went to our regular suppliers of things like shovels, fanbelts, office equipment etc., set up credit lines for these smaller purchases, and then did not need the positions.
All of these efforts paid off. We even had an exercise where we took away 25 per cent of each department's budget and then asked them what they would keep doing at that level. Then they got to "buy back" another 15 per cent of their current budget and looked at what they would protect with that money. That left a remaining 10 per cent of their current budget and we looked at what they had protected last.