Private contracts district’s go-to

Editor’s note: The Citizen is running a series over several weeks, that will take a deeper look at local government spending.

The Beggar’s Checklist is a 10-point rundown of suggestions for municipal governments to manage costs before relying on raising property taxes or seeking assistance from other levels of government.

It was introduced by the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation.

Contracting out of government services to save money has become a popular buzz-phrase with taxpayers’ groups, eager to see a reduction in tax bills.

However, the Cowichan Valley Regional District is already well ahead of the curve, according to Mark Kueber, CVRD general manager of corporate services. "This sort of thing has been going on ever since the CVRD was invented," he said.

"Parks maintenance, backhoeing, a lot of solid waste services, electric work: you name it. We have it contracted out."

In fact, the only additional move to contract out that’s occurred since Kueber arrived at the CVRD in 1995 has been in food services at the Island Savings Centre.

"That was the one thing we had been doing, something we used to provide and then did contract out was food and beverage at the centre," Kueber said.

"The union contract said we couldn’t contract it out if any regular full time people lost jobs. But there were no regular people who lost jobs; it was all casuals who worked in that department. So, we ended up contracting out and someone else is providing that service now."

Asked if the CVRD was looking at contracting out still more services, he replied, "it’s simply the way we handle services."

There has been one area where work has come into the regional district fold, however, and that is curbside collection of garbage and recycling.

"All that had been contracted out but we’ve since taken that back. That was a major contract that’s come in house. We’ve now purchased the trucks and we’ve hired a couple of staff to drive the trucks and do the pickup," he said.

He said the CVRD made the choice to bring it in-house after many years because it will be cheaper for the taxpayers.

"I believe when it was tendered there would be one company that would apply and we’d have to pay whatever they were offering to charge. I believe by bringing it in house they were able to save money," Kueber said.

As an example of how the CVRD works in general, he pointed to the Peerless Road recycling centre near Ladysmith, triumphantly opened this Wednesday. "None of our staff did that. We tendered it out and hired a company to do that," he said.

However, there is one area where the budget is increasing.

In the past decade, the regional district is funding more services indirectly through a variety of outside agencies, who are providing services dropped by federal and provincial governments, according to Kueber.

Asked if those hands are now out to the CVRD for funding, Kueber said it’s a growing challenge for the regional district.

"They do come to the CVRD. And that has increased remarkably over the past few years. For exactly that reason: whether it’s been downloading or funding cutoffs from the provincial or federal government. We’ve increased that whole thing dramatically.

"Here’s an example. There was a time, back in 2003, when we had regional grants of $5,000. That went up to $35,000 then up to $400,000 for the North American Indigenous Games and went down after that to about $100,000. But, last year we funded about $625,000 to various non-profit groups and this year is the roughly the same again," Kueber said.