What should Council do? Whittle the budget by 5%? Hack it by 10% or leave it alone?

By David F. Rooney

A few weeks ago City Council asked senior staff to look at their departmental budgets and two return recommendations that would fit two possible municipal budget scenarios: one that whittles the budget down by 5% and another that hacks it back by 10%?

Last year’s budget was $16,410,013 and the original projection for 2011 was $16,961,380.

The projection for a 2011 budget that incorporates a 5% cut is $15,936,575. If Council decides to really tighten its belt with a 10% cut, the budget could be $15,731,047.

Those numbers probably sound pretty good to people look only at the dollars and cents aspect of a municipal budget, but either way there will be consequences for the City’s various departments.

Fire Chief Rob Girard presented a variety of outcomes for the fire department, including:

  • Cancelled replacement of radios and pagers
  • Funding suspension for Wildfire Protection Program (the program would go ahead but without an infusion of funds from the City)
  • Cancellation of a long-anticipated purchase of an aerial platform truck capable to reaching five storeys
  • Cuts to building maintenance
  • Hose replacement reduced by 50%.
  • Computer upgrades suspended
  • Fire hydrant maintenance cut by 50%

The Planning, Building and Bylaw Enforcement Department foresaw the reduced use of casual labour in that department, reduced expenditures on office supplies and an end to contracted services and staffing.

While the RCMP’s budget is not regulated by the City, a municipal budget reduction will prevent the detachment from adding a 12th officer to the local force and could mean cuts to casual jobs.

The Engineering and Public Works Department would see extensive cuts including reduced staff hours, the elimination of casual staff, less training, the end to contracted surveying, reduced hours for equipment maintenance, reduced street sweeping, fewer repairs to city sidewalks, the end of driveway windrow cleanups during snow-removal operations, reduced maintenance in all parks, less gardening, delays in fencing and street-light pole replacements and the dropping of a $150,000 City-Wide Storm Water Master Plan.

At the Community Economic Development Department, there would be some reductions, perhaps including a reduced contribution to the Chamber of Commerce from the City, but many of its current and proposed projects are financed largely through non-property tax revenue sources such as federal and provincial grants  and the hotel tax.

At Parks, Recreation and Culture the feeling is that there will be reduced staffing at municipal facilities such as the Community Centre, Aquatic Centre and the Forum. This will mean a reduction in hours and non-urgent maintenance issues will likely be put on hold. This will have a major impact on the various user groups that consumer this department’s services. There will be less public skate time, pool hours will be reduced and so on. As well, a planned, and badly needed replacement computer system will be put on hold.¬†Parks, Recreation and Culture Director noted that there are some potential solutions such as an increase in user fees for all groups, heftier charges to the Grizzlies for ice time and wider use of volunteers to reduce staffing costs.

None of this is yet carved in stone. Council is reviewing the proposed budget and the implications of reduced spending. Exactly what and when it will make a decision on the budget remains to be seen.

Click here to read the various options and their consequences.