The City of Victoria has been busy as of late. Over the past few weeks, Pandora’s Box has released its annual report, public bodies report and a ranked list of council’s priorities for the next three years. Together, these reports paint a vivid picture of the inner workings of a city on the edge of financial crisis.
Of council’s ranked priorities, the first three — develop a budget reduction strategy, examine public transit and increase revenues — are the most telling. Two speak to the city’s dwindling financial resources.
The city’s financial issues are made all the more urgent by a recently passed motion from Coun. Lisa Helps aiming to stanch the flow of tax dollars from an already beleaguered public. The motion caps tax increases at 3.25 per cent per year for the next three years, necessitating a budget cut of at least $6 million.
The recent collection of reports provides some hints as to which areas the city’s money is currently poured into.
The city’s public bodies report — collecting salary data for all employees earning more than $75,000 per year — lists 57 employees who make over $100,000 per year. The top five ranking employees make between $178,333 and $231,452. This expense is a recent addition to the city’s books; many of the report’s top earners have seen their wages nearly double over the last five years, and the city’s overall cost of employees, including expenses, has gone up just under $9.7 million in the same period. Despite this data, “address labour costs” ranks 50th on council’s priority list.
Nearly outshining staffing costs, Victoria police are the largest single line item in the city’s 2011 annual report, with a budget just shy of $41.6 million. Despite VicPD’s request for an additional $1.35 million of taxpayer dollars to accommodate a more or less business-as-usual strategic plan, it’s not a surpise that managing the police budget doesn’t appear in council’s priorities. Provisions in the Police Act mean council’s opinion on whether or not paramilitary-style Dodge Chargers are a worthwhile expense amount to little more than quiet protest in the face of irresistible momentum.
The era of unchecked spending at city hall is at an end. The choice as to wheather the coming budget cuts reflect the needs of the public or those of a progessivley more bloated bureacracy rests on the shoulders of our current council. M