Cape Breton region eyes cuts as budget shortfall looms
Jobs, public transit and parks all facing potential cuts as municipality tries to save money
Dozens of jobs could be slashed, transit spending cut and the Centennial Arena closed as the Cape Breton Regional Municipality grapples with a budget shortfall in the millions of dollars.
The potential job cuts — up to 40 — have union leaders concerned, while some people living in rural areas of the municipality fear their already sparse services will be chopped.
The municipality is facing an annual budget shortfall of between $3 million and $5 million on spending of about $145 million. Mayor Cecil Clarke has primarily blamed the money problems on cost downloads and financial barriers erected by the province.
The municipality has done a review of its finances and bureaucrats are proposing a series cost-cutting measures that touch on a slew of departments, from police to human resources. Officials are now drawing up the 2014-2015 budget.
Talk of job cuts, even through attrition, has union members worried.
"The public has got to realize that we're the ones that plow the snow, do the sidewalks," said Kevin Ivey, president of CUPE Local 759, which represents outside workers.
"We're the front line workers and services will be affected. That's the last thing we want."
The municipality says it needs to cut by $5 million by 2018-2019. Interim CAO Marie Walsh said the Cape Breton Regional Municipality should not consider tax hikes, arguing the municipality has hit a "tax revenue wall."
Clarke has reiterated that position and said he knows of few residents who can shoulder significant tax increases.
"The suggestion that we can increase tax rates by 16 per cent and somehow keep people in their homes is, to me, not acceptable, it's not achievable and it's not responsible," Clarke said.
Some of the few municipal services in rural parts of the municipality include partial snow removal and heavy garbage pickup.
Port Morien resident Ron Peach said people will be driven out of rural communities if taxes are increased or services are cut.
"It's a way of life that could be destroyed very easily," he said.
Even eliminating heavy garbage pickup will harm rural areas.
"People just don't have the means of disposing of it themselves," he said. "It's either borrowing or renting a truck to try and get rid of it themselves. So that's really been a bonus to the outside areas. We'd certainly like to see that continue."