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City of Powell River department directors outline potential cuts

Potential money-saving service adjustments presented at council meeting
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POSSIBLE SCENARIOS: City of Powell River chief financial officer Mallory Denniston led a discussion of potential service adjustments to city departments, including Powell River Recreation Complex, which, if adopted, could potentially lower property tax increases for taxpayers.

City of Powell River senior managers have outlined potential cuts to services to mitigate increases outlined in the 2024 to 2028 first draft of the five-year capital plan.

At the November 2 city council meeting, chief financial officer Mallory Denniston told councillors that to maintain services and prepare for future fiscal requirements, a nine per cent city property tax increase is being proposed.

Denniston said a service cut that could come in her department is not bringing in a part-time cashier at property tax time.

“That will result in longer lines, however, we have noticed an increase in online payments,” said Denniston.

She also recommended dissolving Powell River Power Development Corporation, which has been held by the city in case it needs a corporation in the future. Dissolving the corporation would free the city from annual audit and legal fees.

Denniston said she was also proposing to change inventory counts from annual to quarterly, which will save in labour costs and still provide an accurate account that would pass audit standards. Another initiative could be to replace computers every six years instead of five years.

She said savings for the initiatives she outlined would amount to an estimated $16,000 per year.

Next presenter was Powell River Fire Rescue chief Martin Drakeley, who proposed closure of the Wildwood fire hall. He said this would save on annual operating costs of approximately $13,000 per year.

“The Wildwood fire hall sits mostly empty,” said Drakeley. “We have two members in the hall from the Wildwood area. The other members who do respond to area calls are from the Cranberry and Townsite areas.

“The building itself is approximately 80 years old and well past its useful life.”

Drakeley said there are no capital costs in the 2024 budget for the Wildwood fire hall but noted that the building will require capital costs.

“There is the possibility of selling the building and the property and receiving funding from that,” added Drakeley.

He said the next possible item is the sale of the two oldest fire engines. Drakeley said one serves as a spare in case a frontline fire engine breaks down. It is currently in storage.

“The idea would be to save on annual maintenance costs for those vehicles, roughly in the $20,000 range for both,” he added.

Also, Drakeley said the plan involves extending the life of the current fire engines to ensure they get the full 15 years of frontline use out of them.

In terms of the sale of the two engines, Drakeley said there is not a big market and the estimated sale would be about $20,000 each.

Transit talk

Director of infrastructure Tor Birtig suggested the city suspend operation of the Zunga Bus for 2024, at least, until BC Transit is involved with the carrying out an on-demand transit service pilot project.

“Currently, they are conducting a pilot project in the Kelowna area and once that’s complete, then they can put the focus back onto areas such as ours,” said Birtig. “We could operate the on-demand service in cooperation with BC Transit and have their funding allotment put toward that service.”

Complex cuts

Adjustments to service in the parks, recreation and culture department were outlined by acting director of parks, recreation and culture Jamie Bretzlaff. He said what is being proposed is reducing the hours at Powell River Recreation Complex. He said it is currently open on weekdays during the winter for 15 hours a day and for weekends, 12 hours a day.

“We could reduce that down to eight-hour days for the full seven days a week,” said Bretzlaff.

He said in summer months, the recreation complex is also open for 15 hours a day on weekdays and four hours on Saturdays. He said summer hours could be cut back to eight hours a day for the weekdays and to fully close Saturdays and Sundays for the months of June, July and August.

“These savings would be seen as a result of reducing part-time staff,” said Bretzlaff. “The loss of revenue would be largely unknown at this time.”

Salary solution

Director of planning services Jason Gow said the city is operating without a social planner and has been for about a year. He said if the city continued not to be a contributor to the social planner’s salary, the city could save upward of $83,000 this year.

“Obviously, there are drawbacks,” said Gow. “Current staff have to manage, help and support planning works at the social end. It’s obviously not an ideal solution but it’s one area where we have been operating for the last year without that position.”

Powell River Public Library chief librarian Rebecca Burbank said the library is open from 1 to 5 pm on Sundays and the cost of that service in 2024 is $30,750, which is largely labour. She suggested closing on Sundays.

Denniston said the total of the current service level changes outlined at the council meeting is about $550,000 annually.

“I will acknowledge that this is possibly a starting point, depending on the direction received by council, for staff,” added Denniston. She said if all those savings were captured, the city would be looking at a six per cent tax increase instead of a nine per cent tax increase in 2024.

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