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Victoria council considers service cuts, layoffs

May 23 2012

Service cuts, including the possibility of layoffs, were part of the discussions Tuesday as Victoria city councillors met behind closed doors with senior city staff to map out a strategy to lower future tax increases.

The special session held at the Victoria Conference Centre was billed as a visioning exercise. Included in the room were heads of all departments including Police Chief Jamie Graham and Fire Chief Jeff Lambert.

Coun. Lisa Helps, who when first elected said she did not favour such closed door strategy sessions, said prior to the in-camera meeting she changed her mind in this case in light of council's decision to cap future tax increases.

"With the tax increase capped at 3.25 per cent for the next few years, we're going to make some serious cuts and that's always a question of departments and personnel and those are discussions that must be had in-camera," Helps said.

She agreed the session was a "visioning" exercise not dealing with specifics but said the council direction was clear.

The only place to get the needed $6 million from the budget is operations, she said.

"We've made all the cuts to capital we can. We've made all the cuts we can, like $12,000 for [councillor] dinners and $35,000 for park benches," Helps said.

"Now we have to have the serious conversation and strategy necessarily has to be tied to budget and budget is necessarily tied to employment."

Asked if that meant layoffs, she said: "I think there's no way of avoiding such things and there's lots of departments to be looked at."

Policing, for example, accounts for 25 per cent of the city's budget, she said.

"We're going to need to say: Where are the big sources of spending and what are the city's core businesses? What should the city be in and what should someone else be doing?"

The original reason given for moving to a closed session was under a city bylaw allowing "discussions with municipal officers and employees respecting municipal objectives, measures and progress reports for the purposes of preparing an annual report."

That motion was amended, however, when Helps suggested the real reasons were found under two other sections: one allowing discussion of labour or employee relations and the other allowing for receipt of legal advice.

The only councillor to vote against moving in-camera was Ben Isitt, who said council should be able to do its priority setting in open sessions.

Asked if possible staff cuts were to be discussed in the session, Mayor Dean Fortin said: "There may be implications in all those things."

He added that council would also be looking for new revenue sources.

Fortin defended moving in-camera.

"Council needs to have an opportunity to bring up all the issues that may have legal or personnel implications, and then, once a course has started to be firmed up, then council can come out and have those public discussions," he said.


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