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Fire, police costs under microscope at budget hearing

Brandon City Hall may be covered in a blanket of snow, but there’s no freeze planned for next year’s spending. The first draft of the 2014 budget calls for a 2.85 per cent increase in property taxes, as the budget goes up to a total of $75.3 million next year.

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Brandon City Hall may be covered in a blanket of snow, but there’s no freeze planned for next year’s spending. The first draft of the 2014 budget calls for a 2.85 per cent increase in property taxes, as the budget goes up to a total of $75.3 million next year.

Several Brandon city councillors took direct aim at the city's protective services unions during the first afternoon of public hearings on the 2014 budget.

Protective services, which includes firefighters and police officers as well as building safety and emergency management, makes up more than 35 per cent of the city's annual budget.

Coun. Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine) questioned what he called a steep climb in firefighter wages, saying that it "seems unsustainable."

Firefighter and paramedic wages are set to rise in 2014 from a total of $7.3 million last year to nearly $7.9 million this year, with 2015 costs predicted to be $8.2 million.

But Fire Chief Brent Dane said that the salary costs will be set by arbitration.

Firefighters are an essential service, Dane said, and have been working on a new collective agreement since the end of 2011. Arbitration is set for April.

Up next were Police Chief Ian Grant and ACC President Mark Frison, who chairs Brandon's new police board.

The board, in its first year, deals with the police service's operating budget. Capital requests — like the new police station — are still handled by the municipality.

Soaring police salaries have been under scrutiny since July, when a Sun story found that they had risen by more than 45 per cent since 2005. A first-class constable now makes more than $84,000 a year, plus significant overtime and other extra pay.

Total salary costs for police, dispatch and E-911 services are budgeted at $15.1 million next year, up from $14.5 million in 2013. The budget foresees costs of $15.7 million in 2015.

Recently, pundits have been urging the city to consider investigating having RCMP provide police services to Brandon, although police association president Kevin Loewen has defended the city's "Cadillac" service.

City manager Scott Hildebrand said that cost savings from a switch to the RCMP were "overstated" and said that the city was very well served by the BPS.

Frison told councillors that work is being done to address climbing wages, but Coun. Shawn Berry (Linden Lanes) questioned the $147,000 in training and development costs budgeted by police.

Berry seemed to be making a point to target smaller items in departmental budgets, including line items like legal costs and consultation fees.

Coun. Jeff Harwood (University) pointed out that police training and development costs were already down by $20,000 from last year's numbers.

Council is set to continue deliberating the proposed budget until suppertime today, and resume again tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. for a full day of deliberations on Saturday.

The current proposal calls for a 2.85 per cent hike in property taxes.

Sessions are open to the public, and are held in council chambers at Brandon City Hall.

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Sort by: Newest to Oldest | Oldest to Newest | Most Popular 2 Commentscomment icon

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Unions are bankrupting cities across the U.S.A.

Globally, municipal govts. are having these very conversations.

Councillor Jeff Fawcett's comment that this, "appears unsustainable," is a very realistic, accurate comment.

These steep wage increases simply CANNOT continue!

Perhaps the City of Brandon will have to consider putting a freeze on wage increases for a certain amount of time.

Please look at/to other cities who have come up with creative/alternate/better ways to handle this growing tax drain/strain upon their cities.

These increases really CANNOT continue at the rates that we are currently seeing.

Investmentwatchblog.com says that 61 U.S. cities are on the verge of bankruptcy after the city of Detroit.

What is bankrupting these cities?

The wages and pensions of these unions on their city's payrolls.

There are TOUGH decisions & tough days ahead for the City of Brandon.

Just google bankrupt cities in the USA.

The City of Brandon does NOT need to be the next city named on this list.

These are days of frugal, sound & fiscal RESTRAINT, NOT days of more hires, higher wages, etc., etc.

Common sense REALLY needs to make it's way into the City of Brandon Council Chambers in this 2014 Budget.

This is EXTREMELY alarming for the taxpayers of Brandon!

You may be taxing individuals right OUT of this city if this trend continues.

People are under enough stress/pressure already without worrying about HOW they are going to pay for even HIGHER taxes within this city.

Public unions should never have been! They fight against the people paying their gross wages! Every cop or firefighter should be evaluated on job performance and paid accordingly! Unions drag everybody down to the level of the lowest common denominator!

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