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.