DISTRICT of West Vancouver taxpayers can rest assured their council has vetted every program offered by every department of the district, and decided every tax dollar is well-invested.
Or at least that is the idea behind the divisional service reviews that kicked off Monday night.
Under the service review, senior staff from the district's departments will face council to present not only their department's financial and business plans, but also to answer questions about how budgets are spent, how well the department is meeting its goals, what opportunities for efficiency can be taken advantage of, and how service delivery would be affected by shifts in budgets.
The district is on track to pass its third consecutive budget with a zero-per cent tax increase for property owners, but the operating budget is still growing much faster than the rate of inflation, Coun. Michael Lewis noted.
"I don't want six hours of patting ourselves on the back," Lewis said. "I want to get down to some brass tacks."
Council opted for the divisional services reviews after considering a core service review, which would have been conducted by an outside accounting/consulting firm at a cost of around $230,000.
But, while outside expertise is welcome, council members decided unanimously that the tough decisions that come with budget making must be made by elected council members, not driven by outsiders.
Getting a first-hand knowledge of each department's costs, revenues and achievements is something that is incumbent upon the elected members to do on behalf of their constituents, Mayor Michael Smith said.
"Council members . . . don't really understand how programs are decided, how they're delivered or what the alternatives are, so when a member of the public asks questions, we basically give them a blank stare. . . .
"How do you make better decisions? You have better knowledge and that's really what we're trying to do here," Smith said. "I'm not going to take a back seat to any consultant who comes in here without anything like the breadth of knowledge that we have, so we are the ones who should be doing this review."
Hiring an outside firm would have resulted in "picking gnats out of a dog's collar," according to Coun. Bill Soprovich, who said the district and its staff were well positioned to run a review by themselves.
"We have a AAA credit rating. We have incredible investments. We have a beautiful community. Everybody wants to live here," he said, turning to staff. "When we give them a challenge or a job, they go at it with the best of intentions and ability. I've seen that repeated over 16 years and it's improved. And I've seen it improved even better over the last three or four years."
The parks and community services department was the first to face the review, or at least have an introductory session. Staff presented council with an interactive display, allowing them to pull up details on each of the dozens of services the department provides, with the staff member who runs each service on hand to answer questions. The rest of the sessions, which are all open to the public, will run on Mondays throughout March.