City Doesn’t Know What It Owns

Worth A Look, Municipal Government, Frontier Centre

FROM pools to police stations, the city’s 1,100 buildings are haphazardly managed and likely costing taxpayers more than they should, according to a new report by the city auditor.

There are so many overlapping departments trying to manage facilities, the city isn’t even sure exactly how many pumping stations, libraries and bus garages it actually owns, said city auditor Shannon Hunt.

City buildings have been so badly maintained that some are approaching crisis levels. There’s no long-term plan to parcel out limited cash for repairs, and there’s no set of consistent maintenance standards the city can be judged against.

Instead, the city relies on “tradition, intuition, personal experience” and cash flow to decide what to fix and when. The result is higher maintenance costs in the long term, said Hunt.

“We are unable to state definitively that the citizens have received value for money for the tax dollars spent on this service,” wrote Hunt. “The lack of complete performance information leaves the department unable to demonstrate the efficiency and effectiveness of its activities.”

The report — the latest in a series of sharply-worded studies from the auditor’s office — will be discussed behind closed doors at a meeting of the mayor’s cabinet this morning. Because it’s a confidential document, politicians wouldn’t comment on it directly, but Coun. Mike O’Shaughnessy said he believes maintenance of the city’s buildings is hit and miss.

“I find the maintenance standards to be eclectic,” said O’Shaughnessy, council’s budget boss. “It does not surprise me to hear that there’s not one central control over our buildings or one set of standards because we are a city government that’s still operated by different fiefdoms.”

Volunteers and managers from several community clubs said they weren’t surprised to hear about the auditor’s findings, especially the convoluted way many facilities are maintained.

Volunteers and managers from several community clubs said they weren’t surprised to hear about the auditor’s findings, especially the convoluted way many facilities are maintained.

The city’s buildings would cost about $800 million to replace, though the auditor says their condition has deteriorated so much that it would be cheaper to tear some down and start fresh.

The city also doesn’t know just how bad the repair bills are because it has assessed the condition of only a small proportion of its buildings. And the auditor couldn’t cobble together an up-to-date list of all the buildings the city owns. Building services controls 657 facilities, but there are about 440 more managed by the Fire Paramedic Service, water and waste, transit or other departments.

Hunt’s 26 recommendations include better inspections of fire alarms and extinguishers in community clubs and the creation of a set of minimum maintenance standards so buildings are kept reasonably clean, safe and repaired.

Hunt also said one agency should run all city buildings instead of the building services division plus several other departments, whose roles often overlap.

Coun. Justin Swandel said building services is a good candidate to become a special operating agency — an arm’s-length department that’s run more like a business.

Swandel said the new fleet services agency has been able to save the city money by keeping better track of what cars are too old to repair, what departments allow cars to sit idle and how best to lease or buy new ones.

A sample list

THE city owns 1,100 buildings?

Yes, but that’s just a 2003 estimate. Here’s a few of the ones the city’s building services division keeps track of.

Offices: 24

Police stations: 15

Libraries: 15

Ambulance and/or fire halls: 16

Maintenance buildings: 44

Arenas: 30

Swimming pools: 23

Wading pools: 93

Community centres: 92

Zoo buildings: 105

Golf courses: 18

Historic buildings: 9