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Balanced budget on target for Victoria

Tough spending cuts made this year at the City of Victoria are paying off, but looming police and union contracts could dampen the hope of a balanced budget next year.

In a report to council, finance director Brenda Warner said the City should be able to maintain its 3.25 per cent annual property tax increase over the next two years, thanks to innovations like automated flowerbed watering, electronic billing and earlier staff cuts.

"The main risks to the operating budget are related to policing," Warner wrote in her report, noting the current cost-sharing agreement between Victoria and Esquimalt is set to expire Dec. 31.

The CUPE collective agreement also expires at the end of December, while the fire collective agreement has been in limbo for four years, Warner noted.

Union agreements are up for negotiation with every municipality in the Capital Region except Saanich, and talks should begin sometime this fall, said CUPE local 50 president John Burrows.

"No concessions are the number one focus for us," Burrows said. "In terms of pay increases, if we believe there are inequities there, we'll endeavour to correct them."

Both parties will use comparable agreements from other jurisdictions and factor in the current economic climate when negotiations begin, Burrows said.

The City of Victoria could still identify increased revenue when an ongoing parking review comes back to council this fall. Money-making ideas include advertising in parkades and naming rights for the Victoria Conference Centre.

Council will begin strategic budget planning Oct. 4.

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