Sustainability department axed by City of Victoria

Savings amounts to more than $500,000 per year, city officials say

The City of Victoria is eliminating its sustainability department in an effort to cut millions of dollars from next year’s budget.

The director of sustainability, Roy Brooke, was laid off, while three staff positions – a sustainability analyst and two senior planners – have been reassigned to the planning and development department.

The branch will now be known as the department of sustainable planning and community development, said Katie Hamilton, director of communications.

“It’s a tough day,” said Mayor Dean Fortin. “We recognize that when you eliminate positions, there are good people behind those positions.”

A consultant’s review released Aug. 2 on city operations recommended axing the four-person sustainability department and integrating some functions into other departments, but the decision to proceed on that recommendation wasn’t announced until last Tuesday.

Organizational changes introduced earlier this month and today translate to three fewer management positions and $500,000 in annual savings, Fortin said, adding he doesn’t anticipate further staff reductions this year.

“Those are savings that will continue each and every year,” he said. “We feel the outcome of the organizational review is complete now.”

The mandate of the former sustainability department is already entrenched in many municipal decisions, thanks in part to a revamped official community plan, Fortin said. City hall will continue to work towards increasing alternative modes of transportation, affordable housing, community gardens and other sustainable initiatives, he added.

Councillors are poised to approve budgets for 2014 and 2015 at the end of September and have committed to maintaining a 3.25 per cent tax increase for both years.

Fortin said council is continuing to examine other sources of revenue, like naming rights for the Victoria Conference Centre and advertising at city parkades. The city’s executive director of economic development is also due to report back to council in September.

“Fundamentally, we recognize economic development is top priority,” Fortin said.