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City of Victoria considers deeper budget cuts

Automate parkades and replace annuals with perennials in city flower beds: these are just a couple of the many ideas on the table for keeping property tax hikes to a reasonable level.

Council previously committed to cap the annual tax increase at 3.25 per cent over the next three years. For the coming year, that means cutting about $1.6 million from the 2013 budget.

“We’re fairly close,” city finance director Brenda Warner said of meeting the target.

Among other moves being considered are a wage freeze for non-unionized staff – estimated to save $200,000 – and for council, worth $9,000 in savings. Other options are capping the annual increase granted to the police and the library at two per cent, steps that would save about $602,000 in 2013 and $483,000 in subsequent years.

The challenge will be finding an additional $3 million in cuts over 2014 and 2015.

Reductions in staffing are up for discussion.

For instance, planting perennials could reduce the need by two of the eight gardeners who routinely look after that task; partially automating parkades during slow times of the day would also create savings.

Other cuts being considered include city-led programming in Centennial Square, such as the lunchtime concert – a move that could save $82,000 – and $275,000 worth of “new” capital projects proposed for 2013.

On the revenue side, selling advertising in parkades and the blue on-street parking machines could create more cash flow.

“We don’t have all the answers as of yet,” Warner said. Even if all of the areas identified for cuts are approved by council, the city will still have a shortfall, she added.

Some answers will come from an organizational review, contracted to Maximus Canada for $75,000. The company will make its recommendations in a report due in March.

In the new year, the city will host a number of public consultation sessions before council finalizes the budget in spring.

“We’re going in the right direction,” said Coun. Lisa Helps.

Early in the budgeting process, she led five open houses to get people’s ideas on balancing the budget. Many of those ideas align closely with current proposals by the city, she said.

“I don’t think we’re going far enough, but I also really, really think it’s important that if we’re going to change the direction of the tanker ship, that it happens slowly and steadily rather than (with) wild swings.”

By way of analogy, Helps said people need to save for a new roof on their house before they should build a swimming pool for their kids.

“I think there’s a sense that the city has been digging too many swimming pools rather than sticking to the basics.”

rholmen@vicnews.com

Off the table

• Salaries and benefits of unionized employees make up 35 per cent of the city’s expenditures. Despite being the city’s single largest expense, it’s not on the table for discussion.

• The city outsources collective bargaining to the Greater Victoria Labour Relations Board. Therefore, city council has no significant input into the discussions.

• City workers’ collective agreement expires Dec. 31, 2013.

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