Proposed cuts to 311 could mean longer waits, closure of city hall desk to meet budget targets

The city's 311 service could slash 10 full-time equivalent jobs and shutter its city hall desk — where residents can do things like pay their water bills or pet licence fees — in an effort to meet tough spending targets over the next four years.

Winnipeg's Customer Service and Communications department proposed changes to save $2.4M over 4 years

The City of Winnipeg's Customer Service and Communications department said cuts to 311 would meet the target of saving $2.4 million over four years. (Canadian Press)

Changes could be coming to Winnipeg's 311 service that might mean longer wait times for callers and shuttering the 311 customer service desk at city hall, in an effort to meet tough spending targets over the next four years.

The changes proposed by the Customer Service and Communications department Wednesday include slashing 6 full-time equivalent jobs at the 311 call centre and all four at the city hall desk, where residents can pay for city services like water bills or pet licence fees.

The department was challenged to come up with ways to save $2.4 million over four years, as part of a new four-year budget process in which all city departments were asked to make presentations to council committees with ideas to keep spending hikes within specific targets.

Director Felicia Wiltshire told the Executive Policy Committee the change would mean people who prefer to pay those bills in person would have to go to 311's other location at the Bilingual Service Centre on Goulet Street. The service is required by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Services to offer those services in both English and French.

The department would also work to make city information more accessible online. Wiltshire said about half of 311 calls are requests for information.

"We're really trying to do a deep dive and look at how we're providing that information, so that residents are able to access it on their own," she said.

Felicia Wiltshire, director of the city's Customer Service and Communications department, said cuts to the city's 311 service could mean longer waits for callers when call volume is high, and would eliminate the service's customer service desk at city hall. (Trevor Lyons/Radio-Canada)

Wiltshire said Wednesday the proposal — which hasn't been approved by council — would also include cutting a further three full-time equivalent jobs from its French Language Service staffing, relying more on outsourced translation services to provide materials to residents in French.

"The reduction that we're proposing is not in any way to reduce service," Wiltshire said. "It's just looking at re-aligning and how we're providing that service in terms of translation."

'Difficult decisions' to come: Bowman

In previous years, departmental budget presentations have been done behind closed doors, prior to the presentation of a draft budget. This year, it's happening in public.

Departments facing the new budget targets made proposals last week including closing three libraries, five public pools and dozens of wading pools. Representatives from the police service said the new budget targets would force it to put fewer officers on the street, Winnipeg Transit said it would cut routes and public works said it would stop collecting garbage from apartment buildings.

On Wednesday, a handful of the city's top bureaucrats made their presentations to the city's Executive Policy Committee. Proposals include eliminating two full-time equivalent jobs in the Indigenous Relations Department and dropping out of the Municipal Benchmarking Network Canada.

The service measures services of major cities in Canada. Dropping out of it would mean the city's corporate finances team could eliminate a full-time equivalent job and save money on the membership fee.

One of the few areas where departments hoped to spend more was Legal Services. Interim Director Harold Dick told the committee the city's 18 lawyers have long been "significantly underpaid," and he hoped boosting their salaries would allow the city to save on external legal counsel.

Mayor Brian Bowman said he couldn't say for sure which of the proposals would make it into the final budget in their current state.

"I'll be considering all of them in due course, reviewing them in more detail. I couldn't provide you with a definitive response at this time in any of those matters. We're hearing that today. We'll consider them, we'll hear from delegations and then we'll go from there," Bowman said.

"There still are, ultimately, difficult decisions that have to be made."

The city has to pass a final budget by the end of March.

With files from Bartley Kives


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