NOV 2019

Innovation at

City Hall

City Council is working to build a successful city. We want residents to know that we are looking for every means possible to be as cost-effective and efficient as possible – how we can do more and better, for less money. 

There are many changes happening that are outside of our control and which impact our ability to be a successful city, from disruptive technologies to changing economic relationships. To manage these and find the opportunities in them, we need to be creative, to problem solve, and to collaborate for the best result. This is an important time for governments to build confidence and trust, and innovation is a key way of doing this. 

Below are a few different examples of different innovations and cost savings at City Hall to maximize the value of tax dollars and to take advantage of new technologies. More can be found in the Saskatoon Strides documents online.

Why building a new Fire Hall actually saves money

A few years ago, the Saskatoon Fire Department looked at their response times with the current configuration of fire halls, as well as some projections if these locations were to be changed.

Fire Station No. 3 has already been relocated to Clarence and Wilson, and the City and USask recently agreed to relocate Fire Station No. 5 to some university lands on Preston and 108th. With these relocated stations, we have better coverage for our city and less duplication of services.

These changes also avoid the need to build a tenth station. As Stonebridge was being built out, it was clear that the previous placement of the halls wasn’t serving this huge neighbourhood very well. By moving Fire Station No. 3, Stonebridge is better served and there is no need for a costly additional station. Although there are one-time capital costs for a new station (roughly $6M), each station costs about $2M a year to run, meaning that this move will pay for itself in three years.

You can read more about how SFD is improving their service online.

Working with USask to build a smarter community

A year and a half ago, the City and USask signed a comprehensive agreement to work together on different issues such as infill, transit planning, reconciliation, sustainability, and research projects. Being intentional about working together has the potential to really transform our community, especially given that we have so many of the same goals.

One project stemming from this agreement that builds on each other’s strengths is Research Junction, a program that brings university researchers together with city employees to address community needs. This will be a way to create unique and community-driven solutions to such issues as planning, transit, infrastructure, housing, and water security.

This initiative will have huge and positive impacts for our city. The university and the City have worked together in the past, but by being strategic we can really push this relationship, innovate, and capitalize on the tremendous knowledge and passion of the university.

More information on Research Junction can be found of the university’s website.

Using technology to become leaner and keener

City Hall is working to implement a new Enterprise Resource Management software system, an initiative to overhaul our internal processes and systems so that we can serve citizens better.

The ERP will replace the 279 legacy software systems that exist at the City and create one unified system, making us a more efficient organization. Although there are significant one-time costs associated with implementing the ERP ($27.9M), there are even more significant savings associated with it once it is in place. There are over $40M in savings and efficiencies in the first 6 years following implementation, and ongoing savings of $9.7M per year after that, over today’s realities.

Not only are there savings to taxpayers, but an ERP lays the foundation to have an improved way to interact with residents who have contacted the City with a work request, question, or concern. This will help residents get timely and accurate information no matter how they contact the City.

More information on the Enterprise Resource Planning initiative at the City of Saskatoon is in the City’s report.

A mean, green, cost-saving machine

There is lots underway to improve our energy efficiency and to save us money.

For example, we put a clay liner on the landfill to capture methane and burn it as energy, providing $1.3M every year to the City to offset the costs of running our operations and reducing GHG emissions significantly. Council also recently approved a combined heat and power plant at St. Paul’s Hospital, a partnership with the Health Authority that will provide heat to the hospital and power to the grid. This project has a payback period of 8.5 years, annual savings of $225K, and will result in the reduction of 2,361 tonnes of greenhouse gases.

The City also saved over $90K by irrigating parks more efficiently. Through the use of technology, there was centralized control of over 275 irrigation systems and much labour-intensive work was eliminated. In 2017, this meant a 2.5% decrease in water used for irrigation—even though this was a drier year with 11% less rainfall and the City had added 12 hectares of park space that year.

We’re also switching streetlights and lights in Leisure Centres to LEDs. By converting fluorescent lighting in our pools and Leisure Centers to LED lights, we are saving $134K in utility costs annually and avoiding $45K of maintenance costs every 2 to 3 years. We also have higher quality lighting for competitions and we can avoid staff having up on ladders changing the lights more often. We are also using federal dollars to help convert street lights to LEDs. After a short 5-year payback, the reduced costs of LED lights will result in $849K of savings every year to residents.

This City is working on a project to implement GPS systems on our roadway maintenance fleet to help build more efficient routes, projecting a savings of 20% in time and fuel consumption, $646K in fuel savings, and $1.1 million saved a year in maintenance costs.

Building a better way to do permits

The City of Saskatoon has the lowest fees and fastest turnaround times for residential building permits in the country, but in recent years our turnaround times on commercial permits have lagged. Many business leaders have said the permitting process is critical to how they invest in our city, and this is why we are taking a hard look at these processes so we can create an environment that supports businesses to grow and prosper.

We learned from the Mayor’s Roundtable on Infill that through dialogue and flexibility, we can make huge improvements and still ensure fairness and accountability. Simply put—unnecessary red tape doesn’t help anyone.

The City has been working with the Saskatoon and Region Home Builders’ Association and the Saskatoon Construction Association to free up the roadblocks in our processes. There are important improvements being made, including:

  • The assignment of a single point of contact—a one-stop shop—for large, more complex projects
  • The introduction of online permit applications
  • Moving from a linear to a parallel permitting process, so businesses don’t have to wait for one approval before applying for another.

These changes will make us a national leader in this work and will reduce turnaround time by half.

Engaging with the public differently

In July, City Council passed a new and expanded policy on public engagement. We switched from an informal approach centred on tools and tactics to a more intentional one based on strategies and outcomes.

We are living at a time when there is growing distrust of government. I take this as a call to action to make sure that the City is working with the community to tackle a problem, not the City trying to force a solution to a problem on the public. This approach involves work on all sides, but it is core to building a stronger community. Solutions that are created jointly with the expertise and passion that exist in our community is a way to create positive change and to build the confidence of the public.

An important part of this new framework for engagement is to be very explicit about what the feedback is for. We need to be transparent and accountable about this so residents know exactly what they are being asked to provide feedback on and how it will be used.

For more information on this work, you can check out the report, the research, and the full policy.

Using tech to solve problems in transportation

Saskatoon and Regina recently partnered with Innovation Saskatchewan to find technology solutions to improve mobility. We took part in a civic innovation challenge, a time when municipalities seek technological solutions to public service delivery challenges, and in this instance it was turning to the tech sector to create new solutions to increase connectivity.

This project uses human-centred design thinking that puts people first and comes up with creative solutions to the problems we are facing—whatever this problem might be. We are home to a growing tech sector in Saskatoon, so it makes sense to capitalize on this for the benefit of our community.

More information on this initiative can be found in the City’s news release. More information on the results of this project will be released in the coming months.

More examples of innovations and cost savings can be found in the
Saskatoon Strides documents online.

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