BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Dollars and sense

Columnist Richard Rolke believes having City of Vernon staff under one roof instead of three is a smart move, regardless of the price tag...

It’s difficult to find anyone who likes bureaucracy, and particularly paying for it.

And it’s that sentiment that’s likely fuelling some hostility towards the City of Vernon spending $600,000 on staff offices once the current library building is vacant.

Presently, staff can be found at city hall, an old building on the Coldstream Hotel property and in rental space on 30th Street. Substantial inefficiencies have surfaced because staff are constantly walking between buildings for meetings. The sharing of information and development of relationships doesn’t flow as easily — e-mail will never replace face-to-face — and the public is left wondering exactly where they should go if they have a concern.

By using the library building, the rental office and the Coldstream Hotel site will be abandoned. Not only will that put 61 staff with similar duties together, they will also be within a stone’s throw of city hall for various interactions. There will also be a saving of $60,853 a year by not renting from the private sector.

You may wonder why all civic workers can’t be accommodated in city hall. Quite simply, Vernon grew.

There were just 11,453 people on the census roll when city hall was brand new in the mid-1960s. Now, there is a population of 38,150 and Vernon has expanded to include Okanagan Landing, Middleton Mountain, Predator Ridge and the Foothills. Business activities were once limited to downtown but now there is a vast commercial district developing in the north end.

Technical standards have changed meaning expertise on engineering and planning is needed. The public is also more demanding in terms of services (who was calling for transit in the 1960s?).

It’s been suggested that renovations to the library building should be put on hold until a core review of city services is conducted. Obviously some positions may be deemed superfluous, but there won’t be enough to empty out dozens of offices. That isn’t realistic given the engine needed to keep a city the size of Vernon running.

The other suggestion making the rounds is the facility could be turned over to the public.

But there’s already sufficient venues for concerts, art shows and kids’ activities (the Performing Arts Centre, the recreation complex auditorium, the Boys and Girls Club, the arts centre, service clubs and hotel ballrooms are among those that immediately come to mind).

Of course there’s also been talk of turning the soon-to-be-vacant library over the to adjacent Greater Vernon Museum, which is bursting at the seams.

However, what the museum and the community deserves is a purpose-built structure that has the climate and light controls necessary to protect valuable artifacts while also meeting national guidelines for visiting exhibits. Retrofitting the library into a museum would be nothing  more than a Band-Aid and that truly would be a waste of money.

It’s natural for taxpayers to want fiscal leadership from elected officials and civil servants, particularly during challenging economic times.

But by rationalizing physical resources, creating internal efficiencies and eliminating rental costs, a $600,000 investment makes complete sense.