City identifies options to reduce proposed budget shortfall

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Erica Fisher

Erica is a reporter for Moose FM and in Fort St. John, B.C. She grew up in Victoria, B.C. and received her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec.

At a Committee of the Whole meeting today, staff proposed creating a Parks Department, with the addition of two staff members, at an estimated cost of $197,295. The proposed hiring of an Accounting Clerk, and creating Team Leaders from existing staff would come at an estimated cost of $130,186, while reducing walking track attendants from two to one would save approximately $45,460. City staff are also looking at funding certain positions through the Fair Share program.

"If we do use Fair Share, it should be tied to something operating, so that if the Fair Share program no longer exists, then there's certainly functions we would no longer do," explains City Manager Dianne Hunter explains.

They're recommending the salaries for the Director of Infrastructure and Capital Works, the Community Energy Manager, and 50 per cent of the Director of Facilities' wages, as well as the new proposed positions of Grounds Superintendent and Equipment Operator II for Grounds come from Fair Share funding. Those positions would be reevaluated should Fair Share funding stop.

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"Our thinking was, if we didn't have Fair Share, we probably wouldn't be so extensively involved in those areas, and therefore, the wages of the people should be tied to that," says Hunter.

In total, through proposed "deep cuts", staff have found $412,813 in possible reductions that could be used to offset the shortfall. Included ideas are no longer funding the Face the Music partnership with the North Peace Cultural Centre, which would save the City $25,000 in costs, as well as cutting the budget for Council members' meals by 75 per cent, meaning they would work through the regular dinner hour if a meeting is expected to only run until 6/6:30 p.m. The City could save $6,000 by not paying for breakfast at the North Peace Fall Fair, and another $5,000 by not sponsoring the Spirit of the Peace Powwow, as it has shown it has $30,000 in its bank account. By no longer offering the Green Rebate, which is underused, the City could save $50,000, and another $75,000 by reducing how much money is put away for future maintenance of equipment. Other reductions are more like corrections, as they simply reflect budgets that aren't normally fully utilized, or are no longer needed.

Overall, council says they approve of the majority of the proposed changes, but want to consider reducing the Powwow's funding more gradually. Councillor Trevor Bolin says that while making cuts like these is difficult, in the long run it will benefit the city.

"I think when we're faced in the position that we're currently in, it has to happen," he argues. "Digging that deep and looking over every single line item like that was brilliant. Unfortunately, it has to happen, but it also gives us the ability to shift $412,813, which is pretty huge."

City Council now needs to consider what reductions they approve, and how much they want to increase tax revenue. In order to break even, using 3.1 per cent Fair Share, adding the new staff positions, and all of the proposed reductions, a 4.63 per cent increase in tax revenue would be needed. As a comparison, an increase in tax revenue of only 3 per cent would result in a budget shortfall of 332,811, while an increase of 7.5 per cent would mean a surplus of $585,189.

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