Shaun Cameron says the cuts will make Ren Brandon's budget "trickier." (FILE PHOTO)
City council’s decision to cut $50,000 from urban renewal funding in its 2013 budget is a major blow to Renaissance Brandon, according to board chair Shaun Cameron.
The full loss will be $100,000, as the Province of Manitoba matches the dollars that the city provides.
"It’s going to have a direct effect on whether some of the projects or some of the hopes for the downtown will move forward," Cameron said. "We still have to meet and re-do our budgeting process for that, but there definitely will be an effect that all the residents of Brandon will feel from it."
Since 2008, the city has provided $250,000 annually.
"This is the first time it’s taken a significant dip," Cameron said. "It’s tough because we do budget around those dollar figures, so it’s now going back to the drawing board and seeing where we can find some efficiencies and hopefully still be able to provide a good service for the downtown."
Renaissance Brandon’s goal is to bring renewal and energy to downtown by providing programming and incentive opportunities. Cameron said this reduction makes it "trickier" as they move forward.
Coun. Corey Roberts (Rosser) said the reduction will have a "huge impact" on downtown projects and programs.
"Especially when this is one of our pillars for growth that the city has put out," Roberts said.
"With all the momentum that Renaissance Brandon has had in the past few years … it was short-sightedness that they went ahead and did this change to the budget."
Some of the projects Renaissance Brandon is a part of include revitalizing the Strand Theatre and looking at opportunities to develop at the corner of Ninth Street and Princess Avenue. They also have community programming, such as the summer concert series and carollers in the park.
City council gave tentative approval to its 2013 budget on Saturday, after a marathon session of deliberations. The $71.9-million operating budget represents a mill rate increase of 0.98 per cent.
An unexpected change to the proposed budget was a $600,000 reduction in labour costs across the organization. There was clear direction from council to focus on reducing the protective services budget. The department has seen significant increases in salaries since 2001.
As the majority of the police service budget goes to salaries, it’s possible that the reduction would mean layoffs and reduced services to the community.
"I think when we’re talking about city safety, reducing staff is not a smart choice or a smart plan," said Sgt. Kevin Loewen, Brandon Police Association president. "I don’t think our outgoing chief nor our incoming chief would support a reduction in staff."
Loewen said police service wages have stayed comparable to or even less than other cities of the same size across the country.
"We’ve kind of stayed middle of the road … I think we’ve been somewhat prudent in making sure that although we have received wage increases, we still aren’t leading the pack," he said.
One reason why protective services salaries have risen higher than other public-sector wages is because those jobs are becoming more dangerous and less predictable, Loewen said.
A reduction in police services staff would mean a reduction in service.
"Perhaps that’s what city council is looking for, is us less involved in the schools, less involved in program delivery, less involved in crime prevention and simply involved in crime investigation after the fact," he said.
One way Loewen says funding can be reduced over time in protective services is when senior members move to retirement and replacing those spots with junior staff.
"There could be a significant cost savings over a short term and perhaps that’s a strategy they may look towards," he said.
An addition to the budget was an increase to the affordable housing reserve by $75,000, bringing the 2013 contribution up to $200,000. The total reserve will now be at roughly $600,000.
"It’s so important because basically what we have is a significant demand within the community for affordable housing and we also have a very clear priority directed from council relative to affordable housing," said Sandy Trudel, the city’s economic development director. "So obviously in order to meet the need and realize council’s goals, we have the tools to do it. A grant for housing is one of those tools."
The city has committed $1.09 million for Phase 1 of the Keystone Centre roof repairs, as part of a funding agreement between the city, province and federal government.
Keystone Centre general manager Neil Thomson said he is pleased with the support and that the city is acknowledging that the repairs are long overdue.
The first phase of repairs should be complete by March 31. The city has the intention to help with Phase 2, which includes repairs to the roof on the exhibition hall and city square, but is not included in the 2013 budget.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 15, 2013