Published On: Friday, 03 November 2017

Current Model for Greater Victoria Service Delivery is Inefficient

Current Model for Greater Victoria Service Delivery is Inefficient

- Catherine Holt is the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce. She can be reached at 250.383.7191, or CEO@victoriachamber.ca.

GREATER VICTORIA - Since the Provincial Government released the (CISGI Report) last August, I’ve been encouraging people to read it because it paints such a convincing picture of why business finds dealing with 13 municipalities so frustrating and why we should be concerned about how much we are paying for what we receive.

What the report doesn’t attempt to explain is how we got ourselves into this situation or why we can’t seem to get out.

Why are local politicians so reluctant or unable to respond to an issue that is such a chronic public complaint? There are many theories – but one that makes sense to me is “follow the dollar”. Look at who benefits financially from the current situation and who may be at risk if there were fewer local government employers or fewer positions.

Let’s pick one type of service – the fire departments. The CISGI Report says there are four professional fire departments in the region (Saanich, Oak Bay, Victoria and Esquimalt) and many volunteer departments. It describes the 14 coordinating committees, 20 different “shared services” and 6 mutual aid agreements that the fire departments have set up to overcome the fact that what we really need is one fire department for the region.

So why isn’t there a move to a single fire department? Let’s look at the Saanich Fire Department as an example of why they might like things the way they are.

The CISGI Report says that in 2015, the Saanich Fire Department budget was slightly over $16 million and that each citizen of Saanich pays on average $145.36 in property tax for that service. Business property tax rates in Saanich are about four times residential property tax rates, so it’s a much bigger expenditure for Saanich businesses.

The District of Saanich website says there are 123.5 uniformed members of the fire department and 7 support staff.

In 2016, the fire department website says it responded to 4691 incidents: 41 per cent were medical; 16 per cent were alarm but no fire; 14 per cent were motor vehicle accidents; 9 per cent were response cancelled; 7 per cent were public hazard or public service; 3 per cent were unfounded and 1 per cent were hazardous materials.

Only 9 per cent (428 incidents) were fires. This translates to an average of three fires per fire fighter over the year.

The department estimates it saved $187 million dollars in property value, which is one way to justify the $16 million budget.

But only 9 per cent of their work was dedicated to fire fighting. So to look at it another way – if they cut out everything else they do they could probably reduce their budget, a lot.

This is not to discount the value of fire fighters, as trained first responders, being available to support ambulance and police services for medical incidents and motor vehicle accidents. But is that what the fire department was created to do? Maybe there is a more cost-effective way to provide that response.

Let’s see what those fire fighters earn:

The Vancouver Sun publishes a BC Public Sector Salary Database using information published by public sector agencies or through Freedom of Information requests. The database lists all salaries over $75,000 per year. The latest figures are for 2014 – so let’s assume, if anything, they have gone up.

There are 32 members of the Saanich Fire Department who earned over $100 thousand dollars a year ranging from Battalion Chief (Suppression) at $171,857 to Suppression Lieutenant at $101,484. That includes 11 with Chief in their title, 14 with Captain in their title, and 6 with Inspector in their title – each at over $100K.

There are another 61 fire department staff who make between $75K and $100K.

(In case you’re wondering, of the 93 fire department employees out of 123.5 that earn over $75K, only one was a woman: administrative coordinator – $78,375.)

So 75 per cent of the fire department earns over $75K a year. And 25 per cent earns over $100K. Some might say that’s a bit top heavy and an expensive way to respond to medical and traffic incidents when we already have a number of police departments and the ambulance service.

Finally, let’s not forget the cost of the other three fire departments. Oak Bay at $215.10 per citizen, Esquimalt at $210.14 per citizen and Victoria at $179.49 per citizen.

So maybe the reason we can’t move the dial on making municipal services more rational and cost-effective is that there are just too many chiefs.