City of Victoria to add 34 full-time workers as council considers budget

But police staffing faces cuts; Councillor Geoff Young assails hiring surge

Victoria councillors are poised to approve a budget that includes hiring more than 34 full-time additional city staff.

The hirings come even as council is pressuring Victoria Police Chief Del Manak to make budget cuts he says will mean the loss of officers.

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The city’s proposed financial plan, revised over several council budget sessions, includes new employees in areas such as housing, bike-lane development, traffic calming, real estate, urban forest management, human resources, climate mitigation, parks, and citizen engagement. It also includes an assistant for the mayor.

So many people are being brought on that it will cost more than $125,000 just to equip them with gear such as desks, chairs and phones and reconfigure office space.

City staff have yet to provide a separate cost breakdown for the additional workers, but ballparked it at $3.5 million.

Mayor Lisa Helps defended the hiring and called the proposal “a quality-of-life budget” that addresses issues raised by residents during the fall election, including street safety, housing and climate change.

“Really, this is about quality-of-life improvements and well-being improvements for a cross-section of our residents, from young people to seniors to everybody in between,” she said.

She said many of the new employees will be tied to specific projects, so the employees will be let go when the projects end.

In a 5-3 vote last week, councillors confirmed their motion to limit the police department to an increase of about $1.8 million this year on a budget of nearly $54 million. Manak said the proposed increase fails to keep pace with the department’s rising costs and will effectively result in a $1.1-million cut to the department’s core budget. He warned that such a cut translates into the loss of about nine officers and civilians.

“It’s disappointing that city council is not prioritizing public safety, which is one of the core mandates that they have — to make sure that their citizens are safe and that their police department is properly funded to carry out their duties in an ever complex and changing world,” Manak said Friday.

He challenged claims by some councillors and critics that the city is “over-policed” because it has more officers per capita than other cities, saying the argument ignores the fact that his department has to police what is effectively the downtown core for the entire region.

“We have thousands of people that are coming in, that don’t pay tax [in Victoria], so our police department has to be able to have the capacity to respond to public safety challenges that are introduced as a result of everyone coming in to the downtown core,” Manak said.

Helps said council should have at least approved the core police budget.

“That’s one thing in the budget that we could have done a better job on, but I’m not going to vote against the budget based on that,” she said.

Coun. Geoff Young called the level of new hiring “appalling” and said the city should be directing more money to capital reserves.

“I don’t think it’s a responsible budget. It’s the increase of staff that is the most concern to me, because those are permanent positions and although some of them are to meet terms which may be considered short term … I think it’s fair to guess a lot of them will become permanent.”

Young said most of the new positions are not “on-the-ground” jobs but instead doing research. “Quite a lot of them will be doing work that I feel will be duplicating the work of other governments or doing work that other governments will be doing very soon if they’re not doing it right now,” Young said.

Staff originally presented council with a draft operating budget of $244.7 million and capital budget of $118 million that would result in an overall increase in property taxes of 4.3 per cent (2.85 per cent for city operations and 1.45 per cent for the new employer provincial health services tax). Combined with utility fee increases, the total is expected to be 3.76 per cent for the average taxpayer.

That tax increase remains essentially unchanged, as the new hirings and initiatives are funded through about $8 million in additional revenue: an estimated $4.5 million in surplus from 2018 and $3.5 million in new-growth revenue.

Had the uncommitted revenue from new development been used to offset taxes, it could have reduced the tax lift by 1.7 percentage points.

Financial documents say the city has 828 full-time-equivalent employees.

Of the 34.5 additional FTEs, six will be continuations of existing contract positions. The balance will be new hires.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

lkines@timescolonist.com

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