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Input sought at spending-cuts session

Aug 29 2012

Victoria Coun. Lisa Helps says she will be handing out play-money at a Fairfield meeting tonight to help demonstrate the difficulty of maintaining city services with only minimal tax hikes.

"I get people into groups and then I give each group $196 worth of Monopoly money; a pen and some paper and say: 'OK, here's $196 million, now get rid of $6 [million] of it,' " Helps said.

In April, council unanimously approved a motion put forward by Helps to cap property taxes at no more than 3.25 per cent a year over the next three years.

In order to do that, the city will have to spend $6 million less over the next three years while still trying to maintain services.

"Over the last 10 years, city revenue and city spending has increased exponentially and, if we're looking for cuts, we have to look at where this out-of-control spending has happened."

Helps said she plans to ask for departmental budgets from the past 10 years to try to peg down where the "budget creep" is occurring.

"I think we're stretched far beyond our mandate - sometimes because of downloading from the province, but sometimes because we do 'the nice to dos' and then we don't have the resources to do the 'have to dos,' " she said.

More than 100 people turned up to the first such session held in James Bay.

Suggestions for reductions in that session focused on administration costs, limiting the number of city surveys, reducing duplication of services and communications costs, she said.

There were also suggestions to implement a system of unpaid days off for staff, Helps said.

The meeting at 7 p.m. tonight at the Fairfield Community Centre is the second citizen-initiated session in which Helps is looking for resident input.

The city will be hosting its own budget consultation sessions later in the fall but those will be offering specific budget-cutting scenarios for people to comment on, Helps said.

"Why I'm doing this now is I want all the ideas that I'm gathering - to feed into the process early on. So that citizen voices are informing - from the outset, not after the fact," she said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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