Saskatoon questions spending $200,000 on consultants

25 May 2016 2 min. read

The City of Saskatoon is seeking external consulting advice on its urban renewal and rejuvenation program – despite critics’ contention that the municipal government has the in-house know-how to get the job done itself. Those in favour of external consultancy support, however, maintain that the city currently lacks the manpower to perform the analysis.

With a population of 261,000, Saskatoon is the largest urban centre in the sparsely populated Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Saskatoon, which straddles the banks of the South Saskatchewan River, is also one of the fastest growing cities in Canada. In order to meet its long-term aspiration as a healthy, inclusive, and distinct city, the municipality’s Urban Design team recently launched the Streetscape urban development project. The Streetscape program includes a range of improvements to the safety, function, quality, and connectivity of a number of different areas in the city. Upgrades and improvements include new bus borders, sidewalk remediation with amenity strips, street trees, sidewalk lighting, street furniture, and public art.

It was recent disclosed that the municipality has proposed to spend $200,000 on external consultants to support the redesign of the streetscape along Idylwyld Drive between 20th Street and 25th Street. The cost of the proposed spend was questioned by Council Member Darren Hill, who argued that the city itself already had the in-house capability to complete the redesign. “I have a hard time spending $200,000 when we have the expertise in-house. I’d much sooner spend $200,000 on our team than on someone else’s team to help them develop further expertise,” remarked Hill.

Saskatoon questions spending $200,000 on consultants

Jeff Jorgenson, the city’s general manager of transportation and utilities, has responded that the city indeed has the knowledge and skills in-house to perform the tasks; he adds, however, that there are simply not enough municipal staff available to do the work. The redesign report is slated to be completed by the end of 2017.

Today, Saskatoon spends an annual $15.95 million on capital projects and another $2.68 million on operational consultants. Those numbers represent around 4.27% and 0.41% the total operating budget, respectively, with the relatively high figures inciting concern from within the council. Pat Lorje echoed fellow Councilperson Darren Hill’s criticism of the city’s spending on external consultants, stating, “I’ve been bringing this up for years, so it’s refreshing to hear other councilors expressing some concern.” A special city report into various topics – including the use of external advisors and consultants – will be released in 2017, according to Jorgenson.