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City staff feel the blow of budget axe

By Kristi Patton - Penticton Western News

Published: February 19, 2009 10:00 AM
Updated: February 20, 2009 6:41 AM

“It has been a very tough decision for everybody especially when you start dealing with people’s livelihoods,” said Mayor Dan Ashton, adding the cutbacks have come at the suggestion of senior staff. “My interpretation of it is you are not taking a look to save money in a budget, you are taking a look at efficiencies and these were the proposals brought forward.”

The layoffs of eight management and other non-union staff equals a reduction in the budget by $793,115. Besides putting a freeze on hiring, other measures have also been taken such as a ban on overtime, holiday relief and there is a consideration for delaying the return of the seasonal employees.

A proposal has also been brought forward to consider joining the city Parks and Recreation department with the Public Works department. City administrator Leo den Boer told council that a process is taking place for an organizational review and that they may want to wait to find out what efficiencies might come forward rather than zeroing in on one area right now.

“I’m concerned about this year. Before parks starts up, if we could start to blend the machinery, the men, the buildings — if this is the way this might go — and start the savings this year for this parks season,” said Coun. Mike Pearce.

A hot topic brought up during the public meetings in January was the voiced concern for a proposal in the draft budget that reduced the RCMP detachment funding by $300,000. This would cut RCMP staff from 45 to 42 members through attrition. Retired Insp. Dan Fudge said this would result in a number of changes at the detachment and have a negative impact on public safety in the community. Jack Kler, the city’s director of corporate services, said the detachment has increased from 36 members in 2004 to 45 currently. With a population of 33,000, that is one officer for every 733 people. According to the Kelowna Capital News the police detachment in Kelowna has one officer for every 800 people. Kler told council that Penticton’s RCMP caseload per member is heavier than Kelowna’s.

“We’ve seen the members increase, but we’ve seen the unsavoury (criminal) activity increase also. Our members are actually busier now than they were before,” said Kler.

So far in the deliberations, council reinstated the $100,000 that was suggested to be eliminated in the tourism budget, asked to have the Music in the Park reinstated and have eliminated some of the money dedicated to council conferences among other cutbacks and increases.

The draft budget that was presented to council in early January showed a deficit of $1,710,964. As of Wednesday’s budget meeting council has worked the number to approximately $180,000.

“If all the recommended changes are put into the budget, that would be the surplus,” said city treasurer Doug Leahy. “We are not finished this process, meaning that I am fully expecting this number to change. There is going to be a lot of things going in and out yet before we are done, but at the end of the day that number has to be close to zero or be at a surplus.”

More budget meetings have been scheduled for Monday and Tuesday from 4–7 p.m. and are open to the public.

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