By Herald on November 17, 2020.
City council set the ground rules for its upcoming budget deliberations this week by passing two major targets to shoot for.
The first target was proposed by Mayor Chris Spearman. He made a motion that council should aim for a zero per cent increase in property taxes, and a zero per cent increase in water, wastewater and garbage collection fees for 2021 when entering budget deliberations on Nov. 23.
The total cost to the City would be a $6 million deficit on the property tax side of things, a $400,000 deficit in expected water service fees, a $400,000 deficit in expected wastewater service fees and a $36,000 deficit in expected garbage collections fees. This means the City, if it sticks to these targets during budget deliberations, will have to make up about $6.84 million in other areas of the budget through cuts.
Council unanimously supported this zero per cent target.
Mayor Chris Spearman appreciated the support of his fellow councillors.
“It provides some focus (for budget discussions),” he said. “We are going to look at a whole range of possibilities for reductions next week. The city manager has gone through various departments, and asked what a five per cent and what a ten per cent reduction would look like, and we want to take a look through all of that data, and all of that information, and see what we can pick and choose that has the least impact on services, but which will deliver some fiscal assurity to the City, and to our residents and businesses.”
Spearman said now council would have to chew through all these potential cost saving measures to find those cuts which will help council reach that $6.84 million target.
“We have costs which are increasing all the time,” he said. “Not the least of which is the cost of our employees. We have eight different bargaining units. All have negotiated increases in there. That cost pressure continues to go up. It is going to be difficult to manage this, and we’re going to have to take a look at a whole range of things. And, I believe, there will be some impacts on services.”
The second budget motion passed unanimously by council on Monday was sponsored by Coun. Blaine Hyggen. Hyggen suggested the City should look at finding $5 million in savings over the next three years by seeking to reduce its workforce by attrition and retirements to that degree.
“That is going to do a lot of savings over the next three years, and that’s incredible,” he said. “That’s an amount that definitely impacts taxation right now. That reduction, every $1.6 million, I believe it is, is one per cent of taxation. That’s fantastic to see, and I am looking forward to the results from that.”
Hyggen did admit, however, his pleasure at seeing this staff reduction target was greatly diminished by the fact the other three parts of his motion, a 10 per cent reduction in council salaries in 2021, a zero per cent wage increase for management, non-union staff in 2021, and a 50 per cent reduction in council’s travel budget for 2021, were severed from the main motion and referred to next week’s budget deliberations.
“We have nobody here (on council) that wants to show leadership,” said Hyggen. “And I am sorry, this is extremely frustrating for me today. We come in there with a motion to be able to reduce councillors’ wages by 10 per cent. Other communities have done it. Other levels of government have done it, and it gives some direction to (seek) these cost savings.
“I am also a private business owner,” he emphasized. “The hits we have been taking out there, and what we have had to do with less– and yet together as council the decision is defeated that we don’t want to go and show some leadership, and take a reduction in our wage … there’s a frustration level here right now.”
Hyggen acknowledged council has referred its decision on the other three parts of his motion to next week’s budget discussions, but felt it would have been sign it was serious about those deliberations by voting to take a personal pay cut for all council members in advance.
“What’s referring?” he demanded. “What’s the difference? If we need to do it, let’s do it. Let’s act on it.”
Mayor Chris Spearman said no decision had been made on potential pay cuts to council, and that all options would certainly be on the table when budget discussions commenced.
“Generally, we all bring ideas forward,” he responded, “and what council didn’t do: they didn’t reject anything that was being suggested outright. They simply said they wanted to discuss three of the ideas (from Hyggen) along with everything else we’re going to discuss next week.”
Spearman was asked if he favoured a 10 per cent wage reduction in council salaries when budget deliberations commence.
“I think we are open to those ideas,” he said. “I think we have to recognize that there are many in our communities that are taking reductions, and not always voluntarily. And we are in a position to show leadership, and we’ll take a look at what that might look like.”
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