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Worker gets cash for saving city money

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 01/02) - Brad Yorke works in the bullpen.

It's a sizeable open office with plenty of natural light streaming in over large drafting tables on the first floor of City Hall.

Sitting on and around those tables, Yorke and his co-workers come up with ideas. That's why they call it the bullpen.

This week, one of Yorke's ideas added $1,000 to his paycheque.

Reading the newspaper, he saw the city was running full employment advertisements in print. Spotting a way to save money, he suggested the city run only small ads pointing readers to the Web site, where a full listing would be posted.

The city jumped on the idea, and saved $4,000 in the process. Under a 1999 employee benefits program, Yorke was entitled to 25 per cent of those savings.

SAVE -- for Savings Advanced Via Employees -- was initiated by senior administrator Max Hall shortly after he took the position. It gives staff one-quarter of the money they can save the city under new programs, up to a cap of $5,000.

In three years, the program has given out $4,200 to three recipients.

"I brought it on because we have some talented staff," Hall said. "It gives them an opportunity to bring forward creative ideas on service delivery and cost-effectiveness, and hopefully motivate them to do it more."

Now a city councillor wants to revamp the program. Dave McCann wants to drop the percentage to 10 per cent of savings, but push the upper limit to 20 per cent of an employee's salary. McCann also wants to give directors more latitude in assigning days off for employee excellence.

This push is part of his broader efforts at getting more bang for the city's buck every budget year.

"I'm trying to light the fire of ingenuity here," he said.

McCann says SAVE hasn't been successful in giving out enough awards, and he is naming his alternative SAVE2.

"It will be a much bigger deal," he said. "Ten per cent (of the savings) would go to employees, but 90 per cent goes the public and they are turned back into other programs. I'm trying to be sure that the average taxpayer gets a better deal from city hall."

But McCann may be overstepping his bounds. At a city committee meeting where he discussed the idea, Hall said councillors usually set the goals and targets for staff, but leave the actual process of reaching those to administration.

"Really what we're talking about here is a tool that doesn't normally come to council," said Hall. Administration has already begun a reassessment of SAVE, looking into things like employee confidentiality.

Hall was careful to point out in a separate interview that staff welcome council input.

"If someone can make it better, great," he said. "We want the best system we can run here and if there's ways to improve it, we welcome it."

As for Yorke, he said the money isn't as important as the recognition that his ideas are valuable.

"It's just the icing on the cake," he said.