The City of Selkirk anticipates a move to providing planning services in-house will not only result in a cost savings to taxpayers of at least $60,000 in the first year alone, it will usher in an era of superior customer service.
“In the City of Selkirk we strive to provide exceptional service and to make things easier for citizens,” said Chief Administrative Officer Duane Nicol.
“We’ve looked to some of Manitoba’s most successful cities, some of which handle their own planning, and we see that they are able to provide a level of service that we not only admire but want to be able to achieve here.”
The city will consider making a formal request to the Minister of Municipal Relations to be removed from the Red River Planning District (RRPD) following a public hearing this month.
In the City of Steinbach, for example, a residential building permit is completed on average in five to eight days. Currently, the service target for the RRPD is 20 business days for that same service.
“We want to learn from the exemplars of planning offices and use their best practices to enhance our services and encourage development in Selkirk,” Nicol said.
Handling its own planning also streamlines the process for clients.
“By having integrated processes, the client isn’t running between two offices and back and forth and having confusion and ultimately costly delays,” Nicol said.
“This is really a continuation of our efforts to enhance the services we offer in Selkirk. This is about vertically integrating economic development, public works and land-use planning. Stripping away complexity and red tape and making it ridiculously easy to invest in Selkirk. It’s what our citizens asked for in our community strategic plan and it’s what successful cities are doing today.”
Tim Feduniw, the city’s Director of Sustainable Economic Development, says taking over its own planning services allows for flexibility the city can’t achieve without its independence.
“When we look at places like Steinbach and Winkler, both of whom were included in the feasibility study the city did on having its own in-house planning, we see the successes they’re having in sustainable development and growth.
“What we’ve learned is these guys, they do planning really, really well and we want to model ourselves after them,” Feduniw said.
“That’s what we want to do in Selkirk.”
Dale Place, President and CEO of The Kinetic Group, a Selkirk development company, said delays and frustrations with getting your building project off the ground do not exist in the City of Winkler. In fact, the first time he applied for a building permit he thought it was some sort of joke when he got the go ahead on the same day he applied.
“I felt like I was on some kind of candid camera show,” Place laughed.
“I was shocked, I dropped off my drawings thinking it’s going to be some huge time frame for all this to be processed, but they phoned me later that same day and told me the permit is ready.
“They said, ‘don’t worry about it, we’ll do all the paperwork in the background and you can get started, so here’s your permit’.”
Winkler does not handle its planning in-house, but is part of the well oiled machine that is the Morden, Stanley, RM of Thompson, Winkler Planning District (MSTW).
Place said MSTW has a mentality that barriers to development should be removed, not piled on and that planning is about the community and not about revenue coming into the planning office.
“They’ve really shown what’s needed, in Winkler, for growth and to get businesses running, that is why that community is growing leaps and bounds,” Place said.
“Everybody in that office knows how hard it is to start a business, any red tape they can remove will assist the process, in the long term it brings people who live in the area, buy houses, spend money, it’s all beneficial.”
Nicol said RRPD service fees are set to rise five per cent this year and the fees the city pays to belong to the planning board are up by more than 40 per cent over last year. The feasibility study’s projection of saving $60,000 a year translates into taxes the city doesn’t have to charge.
“By simplifying our processes, reducing delays and keeping a close eye on service fees, we intend to save clients money. Money they don’t lose to delays and extra costs is money they can put into their build.”
Selkirk’s Strategic Plan calls for a strong and stable local economy and for the city to take firmer control of its economic destiny. It also tasks the city’s leaders to make safe and reliable infrastructure a priority by having clear intentions for future development while still striving for more effective regional development approaches.
The city will hold a virtual public hearing on March 23. Any interested parties must visit www.MySelkirk.ca/RRPDhearing to register and receive a link to join the meeting. For those who want to participate but do not have Internet access, the city asks that you call CitizenSupport at 204-785-4900 where alternate arrangements may be made.