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City unable to define 'essential services'

EPC accused of forgetting about citizens in budget debate

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City officials still don’t know which staff will be forced to take unpaid leave next Christmas.

Clive Wightman, director of community services, told a civic committee reviewing the 2014 preliminary budget Thursday, no definition has been finalized to differentiate between essential and non-essential workers.

Wightman said he didn’t know which category bylaw enforcement workers, lifeguards and arena workers fall into.

A union spokeswoman wondered if the city would close its pools over the Christmas break next year if lifeguards are considered non-essential workers.

"We’re waiting for the definition of "essential services" and until we know what that is, I certainly can’t comment on that," Wightman told Coun. Ross Eadie, who wanted to know if bylaw enforcement would be working during the Christmas break. "There’s work being done behind the scenes to identify what that means. I can’t comment because I haven’t been told."

Mayor Sam Katz and members of his executive policy committee expect to save $1.5 million in 2014 by forcing non-essential civic workers to take 3.5 unpaid days leave between Christmas Eve and New Years Day.

When Katz presented the budget, he explained the leave would not apply to emergency services employees — police, fire and paramedics — but it’s not certain who else will be exempt.

Wightman said some civic arenas are booked for hockey tournaments during Christmas break and he expected arena workers would remain on duty.

Wightman said that his departments have not been able to participate in an existing money-saving plan — voluntary furloughs — because he can’t afford to give his staff time off work, even without pay, because they are needed to deliver services.

'Did anyone on EPC actually read this before they eliminated the positions.'

"I need every single hour of productivity," from civic employee, Wightman said.

Job Cuts

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi used her appearance at the committee this morning to rail against the job cuts, and the subsequent decrease in service, proposed in the budget.

"Did anyone on EPC actually read this before they eliminated the positions," Gerbasi said as she waved copies of the job descriptions about her head.

The EPC budget says it can save the city more than $2 million by eliminating 25 positions, including 20 senior managers and 5 front-line workers.

Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry), said among those jobs being cut is the top snow engineer and several employees who deal with the public including community development workers and community resource co-ordinators.

"Read the job descriptions... and then you’ll know what you’re cutting and maybe you’ll think about not cutting it," Gerbasi told committee chairman Brian Mayes, a member of EPC."

Gerbasi said Katz and his EPC members have forgotten that cities are supposed to serve its citizens.

"They think we’re about pipes, police and pavement but cities are actually about people and I think that’s what’s been forgotten in this budget," Gerbasi said.

Divided Committee

The extent of the staff and program funding cuts divided members of the committee, which was unable to endorse the budget as it goes to a council vote Dec. 17.

Councillors Harvey Smith and Ross Eadie voted against the operating budget, with Brian Mayes and Scott Fielding supporting it.

This was the first civic committee to fail to endorse the preliminary budget, which was crafted by Mayor Sam Katz and members of his executive policy committee.

Earlier this week, the property and development committee endorsed the budget with only Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights, Fort Garry) voting against it. 

The protection and community services committee did support the 2014 capital budget, including an amendment to add an additional $100,000 for a Royal Winnipeg Ballet building expansion project.

Smith (Daniel McIntyre) said while he favoured the increased spending proposed in the library material budget, he didn’t think many of the money-saving moves in the budget were achievable and opposed forcing city staff taking unpaid days off next year.

Fire Stations

Acting fire chief Bill Clark said the WFPS will be forced to spend $500,000 this year to shore up the floor at the Sargent/Burnell fire station, which is in danger of collapsing.

Clark said as a result, other projects will have to be pushed back, including plans to expand the fire station on Kimberly Avenue — originally set for 2014 but now slated for 2017 and 2018.

Coun. Scott Fielding, the former finance chairman, said the Kimberly station was pushed back to deal with $3 million in over-expenditures on the new fire station at Portage and Route 90.

Libraries

The city will increase its library materials purchase budget by $300,000 in 2014, an increase of 11 per cent from this year.

"This is the most significant increase in the (libraries) materials budget I’ve seen since 1998," Wightman said.

The city’s library materials budget trails those in other cities, Wightman said, but added: "This is a massive bump."

Arenas

Wightman said arena revenue is predicted to fall by almost $455,000 in 2014, mostly from competition from private facilities, like that in Southdale and the Iceplex.

"We’re doing an intensive evaluation right now of each hour that’s booked at every one of our facilities to see whether there is an opportunity to maximize revenue," Wightman said.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

 

History

Updated on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 10:23 PM CST: Corrects grammar.

December 8, 2013 at 4:49 PM: Updates to say property committee vote not unanimous

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