Municipalities : Relieve Your Budget Stress by Adjusting Your Sails



Today everyone seems focused on the Federal and Provincial budgets and the challenges they face with growing demands and global economic woes.  But as we all know too well,  problems at the top flow down to the next levels – that is, municipalities and ultimately to you and I, the taxpayers.

Municipalities are struggling more than ever.  They find themselves in a perfect storm.

Demands and expectations of the public continue to grow, while the number of people living within cities is also growing and municipalities are not receiving the support from other levels of government needed to maintain infrastructure, upgrade, or build new facilities.  And all of these external pressures are intensified by the internal pressures of staff to keep their wages at the level where they can maintain their standard of living, and meet increased tax pressures from all levels of government.

The result is the same cycle every year.  Property owners receive an annual tax notification, which includes the tax increase.  It seems to be the accepted norm that a 2% to 2.5% increase per annum is reasonable.  The interesting part is that we all blindly accept this increase exactly because it has become the norm, and we also feel powerless to do anything about it.  It reminds me of the saying, “if you put a frog in cold water and gradually increase the heat, it will not perceive the danger, and will be cooked to death”.  Sometimes I feel that taxation is that gradual “increase in heat”.  For the last couple of decades, taxes have slowly increased without much real resistance and decreased the standard of living for those who are paying.  The most we tend to do is make a passing and ineffective complaint to our friends and colleagues, and then hope for a different result next year.

There is an adage – The pessimist complains about the wind.  The optimist expects it to change.  The realist adjusts the sails.

It is time to adjust the sails and stop being the pessimist or optimist.  Municipal leadership, with our encouragement, has to become the Realist and say ‘enough is enough’ and make the necessary adjustment. The solution lies in changing how we think and how we go about analyzing and making improvements.

It is obvious that current methods of improvement are not capable of solving the real issue which is needing to do more with what we have.  Councils and city staff have been engaging in the “same old” improvement methods for decades.  The only difference is that over time they have changed the name or brought in another ‘flavour of the month’ cure, which may be different in name but not substance.

We have to stop this ineffective and damaging cycle of focusing on departments or nodes within a system.  In order to truly create sustainable, effective, positive change, we need to STOP doing what we have always done and utilize a method that:

  1. recognizes the importance of engaging staff and customers,
  2. looks at the ‘system’ (cross functional) not at ‘points’,
  3. establishes customer/client value as the determining factor of what activities are required,
  4. does not point fingers at staff as the problem, and
  5. has a structured change methodology that adapts to multiple situations.

LEAN is one of these methodologies.  And it works in EVERY situation when adapted and applied properly.  The challenge is to get the right knowledge and ensure that you adapt and apply it properly.

Unfortunately, your search for the proper methodology is compromised by the number of so-called experts who have just taken what they did in the 80’s and 90’s, modified it slightly and changed the name to Lean.

Bottom line, if you are committed to change and want to meet increasing demands on your organization, while improving your service, costs, and pride of your staff, you will have to adjust your sails and do your homework to find the proper methodology that will produce the results you, your staff and the public deserve.