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Taxpayers Federation says trickle of users doesn't justify $116K spent on City of Saskatoon program

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A group advocating for lower taxes is concerned about a City of Saskatoon environmental program, saying a it's cost $116,000 and has only helped a handful of residents.

In March, the city launched a free energy coaching service — designed for homeowners who want to learn how to be more energy efficient.

Documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), show the city has spent $116,000 on the program — $82,000 implementing the program and $34,000 advertising it. 

Acccording to reporting from Summerhill, an outside firm contracted to deliver the coaching, just three virtual energy coaching sessions had been conducted at the time of the CTF's access to information request.

Gage Haubrich, the prairie director for the CTF, is calling on the city "to go back to the drawing board and reevaluate the program."

"This program isn't working the way it's supposed to. Stop wasting money on it," Haubrich told CTV News.

A purchase order obtained by the CTF shows Summerhill, described as a leader in energy efficiency, could be paid as much $350,000 by the program's end.

In an email to CTV News, Amber Weckworth, the city's education and environmental performance manager, disputed that only three sessions have been conducted.

Weckworth said "there have been eight walkthrough sessions that have been completed either online or in-person" and energy coaching has been conducted through 189 phone calls and 114 emails, "providing valuable energy cost-saving information."

The energy coaching program is funded by a federal grant administered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).

"These funds are for a specific use and cannot be reallocated to general revenue to fund any other municipal program or service," Weckworth said, adding that it has no impact to municipal property tax rates — which are set to rise 6.04 per cent next year.

Regardless of where the funding is coming from, Haubrich is concerned about the spending.

"It shows that city bureaucrats don't even necessarily care about the money that's being spent, even if it's coming from the federal government. And that's a problem," Haubrich said.

Keith Moen, executive director of the North Saskatoon Business Association (NSBA), said the energy coaching program is an example of "non-essential spending."

"The frustrating aspect to it, is that there's seems to be little realization that there is really only one taxpayer, whether that funding, or the source, comes from the federal level or provincial level, that money is ultimately coming from you and I — the taxpaying public," Moen said.

"When we see usage like this, that we consider to be a waste of money, it's pretty frustrating."

Coun. Darren Hill doesn't believe the program is successful.

"I think that the federal government needs to re-evaluate their allocation of money to the Green Municipal Fund through FCM," Hill told CTV News.

Hill said information provided by the energy coaches can be found online.

"People are smart. They can figure it out. Everything is on the internet. We don't need to be walking into people's homes and telling them what they need to do to be more efficient with their energy," Hill said.

Four more energy coaching sessions are scheduled this month, according to the city,  

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