City review consultants hear lots from small crowd at public meeting

Gary Kean gkean@thewesternstar.com
Published on May 1, 2014

From ensuring services are maintained without tax hikes, to improved pothole management and better communication between city hall and residents, the consultants hired to conduct an organizational and operational review of the City of Corner Brook got an earful Wednesday evening.

Not bad, considering only 20 citizens showed up to the public meeting that is part of the review announced by city council in the annual budget that came down in December.

The three-person team from KPMG, the consultant tasked with doing the review, had already met with city council, staff and labour unions prior to the session with residents.

After a brief introduction, Mayor Charles Pender left the room so the discussions could solely be between the consultants and the residents who came. The three consultants then divided those present into three groups to hear their respective concerns.

Mike Blackmore went to the meeting thinking it was about the Pepsi Centre facility only. He didn’t object to it being a much broader discussion about the workings of the entire city.

“I think the whole organization of the city needs a review,” he said after the meeting ended. “When it comes to staff, there is maintenance, administration and management. The question is, are we overstaffed? Do we need all of those people?

“My general impression is that we are too top heavy with administration.”

Paul Seaward had plenty to say in his group’s discussion. He would like to see the city doing more to bring more people — visitors and residents alike — and events into Corner Brook as a way to boost the economy.

“We have to try to recruit more people to attend the university here,” he said, as an example. “The new hospital should also bring in new professionals who are going to build houses and broaden the tax base.”

Seaward would also like to see some progress at the port, especially since the loss of regular visits from Oceanex cargo ships a few years ago.

“I don’t have the answer for it, but they have got to come up with something down there,” said Seaward. “They had a good bit of money and they did some good work down there, but we need something else now. We’re seeing lots of tourist ships and we have to see more of that. Every one of them that comes in is money for our city.”

Bruce Peever, KPMG’s senior manager, said the ideas ranged from lofty ideals to more practical suggestions, but all will be considered as he and the other consultants pull together a plan to present to city council.

“Our team has been struck by the energy and commitment to this community,” he said after the meeting. “Everybody wants to make it a better place to live and are thinking about the future of Corner Brook in the long term.”

KPMG is aiming to have an interim report prepared for city council by May 22, and then work with council on different structural models of how the city could be governed more efficiently.

“What we heard tonight was consistent with what we’ve been hearing from city council and staff,” said Gail Hamilton, a KPMG consultant who is actually originally from Corner Brook.

“Everyone is very interested in making the city accessible for business and maintaining the level of services without increasing taxes.”