After listening to members of the public for two hours the previous night, it was a closed-door session with members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) on Thursday that brought closure to the debate around the City of Prince Rupert’s 2013 budgeting process.
During the meeting CUPE members brought forward suggestions on how the City could save at least $150,000 in operational spending, though neither Mayor Jack Mussallem, citing labour relations confidentiality under the Community Charter, nor members of the union would comment on what those recommendations were. With the a minimum of $150,000 in savings outlined by the union, council decided to balance the budget by reducing the proposed two per cent tax increase to 1.5 per cent and drawing down the accumulated surplus by approximately $523,000.
“Yesterday the message we heard was not just from the business community about not wanting a tax increase and not just people looking after the services we have… They wanted to see our City handled smarter,” said Councillor Joy Thorkelson, who introduced the motion at a special meeting on May 9.
“If we work smarter, as some of the ideas CUPE have suggested do, we can achieve that… If we don’t get the savings by the means CUPE suggested tonight, we have to get them elsewhere.”
Thorkelson’s motion easily found support among most members of council who were looking for a way to prevent a cut in hours to the recreation centre and preserve public works jobs.
“What was brought forward by CUPE makes absolute sense,” said Councillor Nelson Kinney.
“We can protect jobs and we can do the things that people said… As stewards of the City, we need to make sure we are financially responsible. Part of that responsibility is working with staff and our City partners,” added Councillor Anna Ashley.
Mayor Jack Mussallem, however, was not as certain as others in the chamber.
“I am concerned. There is a whole lot of blind faith and a lot of good intentions here… I am very concerned if we don’t get there or part of the way there [to the savings], next year could be tighter for us,” he said, alluding to three contracts to be negotiated next year, potential utility increases and a half-million-dollar draw down on the surplus.
“Hopefully we won’t have a lot of emergencies.”
The previous motion to cut the City’s operational budget by three per cent across the board was brought back to the meeting by Mayor Jack Mussallem, and unanimously rescinded.
Council passed first three readings of the revised budget, and will vote to pass it at a regular meeting on Monday night.