Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Emergency services program on chopping block

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THE City of Winnipeg plans to claw back on emergency services in 2014 by eliminating the positions of two employees responsible for placing fire, flood and other disaster victims in temporary homes.

The 2014 operating budget calls for cuts to Winnipeg's community services department, the Free Press has learned.

The city plans to eliminate the positions of two workers whose duties include ordering up Winnipeg Transit buses to house apartment residents displaced by fire, co-ordinating flood-evacuee services and diverting social-service requests from frequent 911 callers who would otherwise tie up police and fire-paramedic resources.

The proposed cut would save $160,000 a year in salaries and benefits, said sources at city hall, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The intention is to have provincial social workers pick up the slack for city staff, based on the opinion social work is not a City of Winnipeg responsibility, the sources said.

"They think these people are social workers, but their positions have changed so positively they're not social workers in the true sense," said one official. "Even in non-emergency times, they're doing a lot of great work."

The employees in question have been notified of the city's intention. The cut is not written in stone, as council has the power to amend the 2014 operating budget before it faces approval in December.

Winnipeg's preliminary 2014 operating budget -- a spending plan for all city services next year -- will be tabled on Friday, along with the 2014 capital budget, a blueprint for infrastructure improvements and equipment purchases.

Council finance chairman Russ Wyatt (Transcona) declined to comment on the proposed emergency-services cut, noting the budget will be tabled on Friday.

"We have a very large budget where there are many tough decisions. There are many positive things to come out as well," he said. "Like any budget, you will read it and there are parts you will like and parts you may not like."

The 2014 budget will include another property-tax increase devoted to infrastructure maintenance. Mayor Sam Katz had also made a series of pre-budget announcements, promising more money for bike-and-pedestrian paths, library acquisitions and athletic fields.

Since his election in 2004, Katz has consistently said safety is one of Winnipeg's top two priorities, along with infrastructure.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Given Winnipeg’s history of flooding, should the city re-consider proposed cuts to its emergency services program? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 28, 2013 A3

History

Updated on Thursday, November 28, 2013 at 6:16 AM CST: adds question for discussion

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