The City of Duncan will review its capital plans for 2020 to determine if any can be delayed until next year to see if there are ways to help citizens who are financially pressed during the COVID-19 crisis. (File photo)

City of Duncan looks to find cost savings in its 2020 budget

Final budget must be adopted by May 15

The City of Duncan’s council has asked staff to review plans for capital projects in 2020 in an effort to find ways to ease the financial burdens of citizens during the COVID-19 crisis.

Council also asked staff at its meeting on April 20 to revise its proposed budget for 2020 with options to reduce travel and conference stipends for staff and council members for the year to help reduce costs.

As well, the city will move the tax penalty date this year to Oct. 1 and the second penalty date to Nov. 1.

In normal years, the first tax penalty date is the first business day in July, and the second date is the first business day in September.

The city was considering a 3.16 per cent tax increase in 2020, but the financial repercussions on the city’s citizens from the COVID-19 crisis has led council to reconsider its options.

RELATED STORY: CITY OF DUNCAN CONSIDERING A TAX INCREASE OF 3.16%

The proposed budget for the year was given the first three readings at the council meeting on April 6, with the understanding that council still had the opportunity to pull the budget back for further review.

Staff recommended that the city create a grant program of up to $10,000 for local organizations that are supporting businesses or individuals through the crisis, and that $100,000 should be set aside for it.

The funding would come from one or more capital projects that would be deferred until next year.

But council decided to wait for a full staff report before making any decisions.

A suggestion from Coun. Garry Bruce that a temporary pay cut of approximately 10 per cent from both the city’s staff and council should be considered received mixed reviews.

“I realize that this would not be a fun thing to do,” Bruce said.

RELATED STORY: CITY OF DUNCAN MOVES TO ESSENTIAL SERVICES ONLY

But CAO Peter de Verteuil said there are contracts with the city’s unionized workers, and other factors, to consider.

“Council can’t just cut the pay for our unionized workers across the board without discussions with the unions,” he said.

“Also, our exempt staff work under individual agreements that we have with each staff member. Our unionized staff’s remuneration is comparable with other jurisdictions, but the amount our management, exempt staff and council members get paid are not necessarily comparable because the city is a smaller jurisdiction than many of our neighbours.”

Coun. Jenni Capps said she’s opposed to reducing pay for staff.

“They are all working very hard right now during the crisis,” she said.

“As for council members, I’d be open to a discussion around that even though we get paid less than our neighbours.”

Coun. Tom Duncan also said he’s opposed to pay cuts.

“We’d end up spending a bunch of time trying to save peanuts,” he said.

“I’d rather see us spend time trying to find real tax deductions rather than symbolic ones.”

RELATED STORY: NORTH COWICHAN WAS CONSIDERING A 4.4% TAX INCREASE IN 2020

Bruce said he agrees that everyone in the city works hard, but he’s talked to people in Duncan that have lost their jobs during the health crisis and are in dire financial circumstances.

“Some people are in real trouble, and I think a pay cut for a short time, maybe three to six months, is a good idea.”

There was no motion made on that matter at the meeting.

In a staff report written by Bernice Crossman, Duncan’s director finance, Crossman warned council that while they could reduce taxes in 2020, the city’s five-year financial plan is already projecting a 5.3 per cent increase in 2021, and that could increase further if the city defers projects from 2020 to 2021.

The city’s final budget must be adopted before May 15.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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