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Party mood NOT, as cuts knock city hall, library, parks off balance

November 25th, 2009 · 27 Comments

As people are currently lined up tonight at park board and library board meetings, desperately trying to save parts of the system on the chopping block, I also got a note from the wife of a city hall employee about the sense of anxiety prevailing there. Please see it pasted below.

All of which makes we wonder — why is Vancouver in such a desperate situation? Yes, the economy is bad and cities aren’t rolling in development fees any more, but I am just not hearing about this kind of severe budget-cutting and subsequent gnashing of teeth/rending of garments in other municipalities. Am I missing something? Let me know. (And please let us all know about the highlights or lowlights of tonight’s park and library meetings.)

Anyway, here’s a note from “Jennifer”

Francis ,

I am completely surprised you did not even discuss this issue in your blog. City Manager  announced that there will be 158 layoffs in City of Vancouver to save money and not to increase taxes. My husband works for the City, he got the PowerPoint presentation from his manger yesterday and he is not able to sleep since .

I used to work but stopped working after the birth of my second child . We bought an apartment few years ago. Until yesterday we were thinking that we are a happy family , very fortune that my husband has a stable job , I can give my full attention to my little children and we are proud owners of a little apartment .

We never thought that could happen to us.

Before making this decision did you realize how many families would be destroyed?
·         How we, and a lot of other families like us, would be able to pay huge mortgages?
·         How we would feed and take care of our children?
·         Who would give my husband or any person who get fired a job in this terrible economy?
·         Who would be responsible for the destruction of my family and other families like us?

My husband went to our family doctor and he has already started taking anti-anxiety pills.

I am wondering, why you cannot propose any of the following options:

·         Do not increase salaries of union and exempt staff, discuss with them the consequences of firing people versus implications of loss of 4% pay increase.
·         City does not have a contract with exempt employees for wage increase , do not increase their ways by 4% , may  be ask  for rollback of previous increase. If they don’t like it they can leave and find another job .Only those who can really find other jobs would leave . At least that would not damage any family.
·         Lots of employees can retire with full benefits but they have chosen not to retire so that they don’t get bored at home, propose a by-law for forced retirements for these employees. Most people over 55 can retire and should retire.
·         Make four day work week, which would be 20% salary decrease across the board
·         Please put a real hiring freeze, why there are still jobs posted on City web site .Hiring freeze should be a REAL freeze. Stop hiring people from outside like the new City Manager and new CFO.


Categories: Uncategorized

  • Not Running for Mayor

    My understanding is that no one is actually being let go, the city loses 5% of it’s workforce per year. That’s much more then 158 people. The city will hire less then the amount lost to come up with that figure. As far as I know no one has been given a pink slip. Things at the parks board and elsewhere might not be so rosy though and there probably will be some cutbacks.

  • Frances Bula

    Oh, NRFM, are you sure we don’t know each other? Your voice seems so familiar.

    Anyway, thanks for this info — though it doesn’t seem like that’s the message that Jennifer and family are getting.

  • Glissando Remmy

    “Titanic goes down. Everyone safe,” proclaimed the Daily Mirror in April 1912. Other headlines dug the paper into an ever-deeper hole: “Passengers taken off”; “No lives in danger”; “Morning of suspense ends in message of relief”

    Talking about media spin. Sounds familiar? Déjà vu?

    2009. November. Think of Vancouver City Hall as of Titanic before that damned day of April 14th, 1912.
    Go back one year.
    Right after we gave them jobs, or life jackets I may say, this “Just for Laughs” Mayor and Councillors, fired and hired as they pleased, compensating handsomely during the ordeal. Their embarking was triumphal, and the famous Intermezzo from Mascagni’s opera, ‘Cavalleria Rusticana was played by The Band. Ah, those first class people and their fancy parties!
    Forward one year.
    Now that the ship is going down guess who is left helpless, behind locked gates, so to not overcrowd the Elite? You got it, the second & third class people. The musicians (who were listed as second-class passengers on the Titanic’s logbook) worked hard by beginning their set at lunchtime and playing late into the evening. They went down playing. The rescue boats half empty; screw the “kids, women and elderly first” rule, the Vancouver Vision party and Friends are humming away on The Band’s so very dimming tunes.

    “Nearer, My God, to Penny” could be listen to on the local radio station at City Hall our days.
    It is simply appropriate.
    We try to stay afloat in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Living in the City

    It definitely isn’t the message we’re getting either, at least in my corner of the City. I personally know at least a half-dozen people in my area whose jobs are on the chopping block due to reductions in staffing levels, or outright program cuts.

    Not that every single one of them will find themselves unemployed–in fact many of them will probably remain employed by the City, by “bumping” other staff who have less seniority than them (provided they meet the job requirements)
    The staff who are bumped will then in turn have an opportunity to displace more junior members, and so on and so forth, setting off a chain reaction. Or at least, that is my understanding of the process.

    Suffice to say that this creates a lot of stress for the relatively young employees, who if they survive the initial round of cuts get to sit and wait and hope nobody bumps them.

  • Mary

    Living in the City describes the situation accurately – positions eliminated, bumping strings. Penny should have known what chaos that created in health back in the early part of this decade. Worse is the fact that she and the new CFO consistently under report revenues to make the situation seem worse than it is. And Gregor? just waiting to make his next big move where upon he will stand on his record of being a tough guy who can cut a budget when “necessary” , hoping there won’t be investigative journalists who expose the validity of the “necessity”.

  • David

    As per City of Vancouver website, for an average single family home valued at $782,000, the maximum 7% tax increase would be $116 and if tax is increased that much, there would be no layoffs.

    Let us look that in perspective, how much it means monthly, $9.6, how much it would be per day $0.32! Thirty-two cents! That is less than parking your vehicle on a meter for few minutes that is fraction of a one-zone one-way transit fare and one tenth of a cup of coffee. I wonder what you can buy with 32 cents today. How much tip you pay to your hairdresser, to waiter at a restaurant, to the cab driver, at least ten times of 32 cents if not more, may be if you ever gave any money to a panhandler that would have been more than 32 cents. Do we think about money when we drive our car for couple of kilometers or when we call our friend in Toronto? Would we even notice if our weekly grocery bill increased by $2.4/week? That is $9.6/moth.I buy a CD almost every month, averaging $10, if I can stop that I will not feel the tax increase. I buy a fiction book every month average $20, if I buy that book every two months, I will not feel tax increase. I park my vehicle on meters many times a month and never think about how much money I spend on parking. I did the calculation last night and it is somewhat around $20 a month, average one hour ten days a month on a parking meter of an average of $2/hour, if I cut that into half; I will not feel tax increase.

    Believe me, City employees are extremely stressful than it appears from outside, that is both unionized and exempt.

    Do you think any employee would care about working diligently during Olympics, about Greenest City Actions and about sustainability when their own survival is in jeopardy?

    People would forget the increase of thirty-two cents tax increase. What if even a single city of Vancouver employee attempts suicide or just tries to attempt suicide because of layoffs, and I am sure some would do.

    No will ever forget that and no one will ever forgive Council and Robertson for that!

    I buy $4 latte from Starbucks, every weekday on my way to work and I never did comparison in that way. I am willing to except all tax increase if that guarantees no layoffs.

    I am wondering why decrease in development activity is not affecting any other Cities. There are 23 municipalities in Metro Vancouver!


  • Westender

    Why is Vancouver in such a desperate situation? As a taxpayer, it appears we are in this situation because of the way the City has presented (spun?) the budget shortfall. I feel I get good value for my residential tax dollar – approximately $58 a month for a one bedroom condo – and have told the City (through rather convoluted survey opportunities) that I would be comfortable with a reasonable tax increase. I would be interested to see the results of the community consultation, but to date, I don’t know that anything has been published. Did anyone attend the community meetings on the topic? What were the responses to the on-line survey? I believe the most basic failure of the City is not doing a better job at educating the taxpaying public regarding the relative “cheapness” of (residential) taxes in Vancouver. You get what you pay for, and with the current approach, we will be “getting” a reduction in services and a “meaner” public realm.

  • Joe Just Joe

    David, the issue isn’t 32cents a day, it’s that it would be an “additional” .32cents a day. It might not seem like a big deal, but a 7% increase is a very big deal, imagine if everyone did the same. The it’s only pennies a day becomes a large amount quickly if everyone starts doing it.

  • City Observer

    At the moment, the proposed property tax increase, as mandated by Gregor and company and about to be enforced by Dr. Ballem, is 2%.

    Were Council to accept that a 5% tax increase (or $61 a year more than is currently being proposed) is acceptable to the citizens of Vancouver, and were Council to accept that a token business property tax increase is mandated in these difficult times, we’d find our way out of this Vision-induced mess we’re in – where library hours are reduced and jobs are being lost, the Bloedel Conservatory and the Children’s Zoo are being shuttered, and untold other cuts are being made to programmes of value to each and every one of us.

    Vision Vancouver a progressive City government? Yeah, right. Vision’s proposed 2% budget increase is all about cynical politics (“a municipal government that will keep your taxes down while devastating cherished programmes”), which has nothing to do with good government.

    In the face of the proposed cuts, not even the provincial Liberal government would be as politically tone deaf as Vision is proving to be day in, day out.

  • spartikus

    it’s that it would be an “additional” .32cents a day

    On the current $4.47/day. So that would be $4.84.

    imagine if everyone did the same

    Imagine if everyone raised it 25%, or if the Moon hit the Earth. We’re talking about a very specific thing, and perhaps should stick to it rather than invent endless hypotheticals.

  • rf

    A comical mindset (David’s that is), that he expects a hundred thousand people to pay $116 more a year, rather than cut 158 jobs or have 1500 people take a pay cut.

    And Jennifer’s letter….talk about selfish. I love the reference to “huge mortgage.” Like that is a communal problem.

    900 laid off from Rogers today. Guess what, this is what is supposed to happen when people run out and committ 80% of their income to an overpriced house. They didn’t do it out of necessity, they did it because they think they will make money on it. Good for them.
    But if it doesn’t work out and you lose the house.
    Tough for you.
    Don’t ask everyone else to pay.

  • spartikus

    A comical mindset (David’s that is), that he expects a hundred thousand people to pay $116 more a year, rather than cut 158 jobs or have 1500 people take a pay cut….

    …or have services they depend on cut. Oh wait, maybe they would when the realize how little the number is. I know you’re probably a completely self-reliant entity who manages to survive without utilizing anything our taxes pay for, but most people are not so lucky.

    And you call Jennifer selfish.

    900 laid off from Rogers today

    Mostly managers and executives. Someone is finally listening to me!

  • Joe Just Joe

    If 7% truely is not a big deal why have all city staff not stepped forward and asked that their pay be reduced by 7%?
    7% is only a small number when it’s other peoples money. I’m not advocating for anyone to take a pay cut, just pointing out the issue. I think we can all agree though things could’ve/should’ve been handled differently.

  • spartikus

    If 7% truely is not a big deal

    Because 7% on a small number is…a small number.

    why have all city staff not stepped forward and asked that their pay be reduced by 7%

    Last time I checked, the City of Vancouver wasn’t a private company – it belongs to all the people of Vancouver – who both benefit and are responsible for it’s upkeep. Under what rationale would you suggest that City staff, and City staff alone bear the burden?

    Lest we forget, the people who would see their property tax rise 32 cents/day are people who own a $700k+ house.

  • Joe Just Joe

    So because someone managed to save up enough money for a downpayment that means they can afford a 7% increase in property taxes?
    I really fail to see your logic.
    The arguement is simple math, if you think an increase of 7% is so easy to deal with then a decrease of 7% would be just as easy to deal with.
    I for one am not arguing that it’s not a big deal. I beleive 7% is a very big deal either way.

  • Joseph Jones

    FB: “Why is Vancouver in such a desperate situation?”

    Try these propositions: An insane growth agenda oozes green rhetoric. A resort city sprouts from the dominant real-estate “industry” and its spinoffs. Disaster capitalism is selling off our remaining assets for faster profits, higher rates of return, and stronger corporate balance sheets.

    Current cutbacks are mind-forg’d manacles.

    Homeless? Too bad. Now we have a really magical Act that will disappear you while claiming to care about you!

  • Joe Just Joe

    I second an idea Joseph had a while back, make up a large portion of the budget shortfall by elimanting free street parking city wide. Allow each household the right to buy one permit for $50/yr, otherwise you remain free to park on your own property. This would raise a chunk of money as well as have a positive effect on the city’s becoming green goal

  • spartikus

    So because someone managed to save up enough money for a downpayment that means they can afford a 7% increase in property taxes?

    Um…if you can afford $4.47/day in property taxes but can’t afford $4.84/day…then, irrespective of hypothetical tax increases, you are living dangerously.

    But you don’t seem to have an moral qualms about asking City staff to take a 7% wage cut (whether that would actually cover, more than cover, or not cover the shortfall I don’t know). Assuming a median wage of 60k for a City worker, you’re asking them to forgo $4200. Or $11/day.

  • MB

    After experiencing some really hefty property tax increases since we bought our Vancouver house 10 years ago, what’s another $116/year? That’s a month and a half of double shot Americanos to me. Well worth the price of saving jobs (the majority not by attrition) and services, and preserving the Riley Park library and Bloedel Conservatory.

    Every city in Metro Vancouver has experienced revenue decreases from the development slow down. Municipalities cannot by law show a deficit, so most of them plan to mostly raise taxes, cut a little, or both.

    I think Vision is trying to be everything to everyone, so perhaps they feel the need to move to the right from their NDP base to prove to the corporate crowd that they’re capable of “balance”, mimicking the discredited Campbell Tough Love brand of yesteryear.

    It’s all a little thin.

  • Rick in Sooke

    Two points to comment on:

    1. the impact of a large tax increase on the hapless single family home-owner. Less than 25% of households in Vancouver are SFD – of those, more than half have no mortgage. More than half are rental, and their rent can’t be raised beyond the legal limits, regardless of property tax increases. And yet the debate, for more than 40 years that I’m aware of, is always which services (usually provided to poor renters) should be cut to protect against tax increases that might be a hardship for 10-12% of the richest households
    2. the City has (almost) always done surveys around this time of year asking residents if they would rather pay higher taxes or have services cut. I’ve never seen an instance where the respondents didn’t overwhelmingly suppport higher taxes and no cuts.

    So what is really going on here? The only thing I can think of is the time-honoured Provincial government trick of making big cuts near the beginning of a term, then giving it all back just before the next election.

  • Otis Krayola

    Let’s bear in mind that the City is continuing the shift (2% again this year?) from business to residential assessment.

    Maybe Council needs to consider deferring the $22 million tax holiday for business that was begun times were fat.

  • Woof

    I’m sticking with RF’s comments, Frances… your letter writer (Jennifer) makes it sound like her husband’s job is an entitlement. In 2010, no job is an entitlement.

    A later commenter mentioned the silliness in thinking that hundreds of thousands are willing to cough up another 116 /yr to save jobs. Agree.

    It’s only because the city’s budget is founded on an annual revenue /expense cycle, not a quarterly one (as is business). That’s why the muni’s /province /feds are the last workplaces to truly be hit by the downturn.

    As for a shrinking workforce. Change happens. Those with the foresight to adapt, do. And they most often survive.

    As for those who don’t believe that it can happen to them… start to believe it. Start to prepare a strategy in advance. It really can make a difference.

    As for those who are not willing to pay more tax to cover the ever-escalating cost of providing municipal services… remember your choice when services DO start to disappear.

    Be prepared to hear “No” when calling to have this or that service provided, and accept the reason for it.

  • Mike

    My prediction. Dec 15, reluctant Council agrees to residential tax increases over 2% after public anger over closing petting zoo and Conservatory. Staff discord by pitting exempt staff, who will not give up promised wage increase, against union staff who narrowly escape layoffs. Lousy script, poor acting and lovely outcome.
    Top 100 employer? Ha! Ha!

  • I have some huge issues with this letter from “Jennifer”. This is in no way to diminish the stress that her husband are experiencing, as with a young child, I sympathize with their situation. On the other hand, here are a few comments/questions for this letter writer:

    1. If you chose to take off work to raise your child (an honourable thing to do, don’t get me wrong), then there is obviously going to be less financial stability with your family’s situation. That is a choice you and your husband made, for which there are always going to be good and bad consequences for.

    2. You never thought that this could happen to you? Your husband works in the public sector, which means that his salary is paid for by taxpayers. As such, these jobs are always potentially at risk depending on the economic climate, the city’s revenues, the government-in-power’s policies, etc. Thus this statement is completely naive to me (and in consideration of what has happened to the global economy over the past year, how is the possibility of losing one’s job something that you “never thought…could happen to you?”

    3. To say that the cuts being made in the city could be “responsible for the destruction of my family” is absolutely ludicrous. Where does self-responsibility come into play? Like for example, your decision not to work. This is a statement that is beyond comprehension to me.

    4. “Most people over 55 can retire and should retire.” Well, tell that to my Mom who is 64 and determined to go until 70, or to the 57-year old who just lost half of their savings in the markets over the past year. This is a selfish and self-serving type of determination that goes completely against the trends that say that mandatory retirement in Canada is becoming a thing of the past.

    5. You are now suggesting that the City adopt a four-day work week, representing a 20 per cent pay cut across the board. Were you advocating for that when you and your husband considered your situation “very fortune” and “stable”? I highly doubt it.

    She seems to feel as though she and her family are entitled to her husband’s job with the City of Vancouver…as if it is a right.

  • spartikus

    57% of Vancouverites would accept a 7% increase in property tax to maintain current service levels. (PDF pg. 39).

    via the dedicated communists of City Caucus.

  • gasp

    Why is Vancouver in such a desperate situation?

    The past few City Councils have failed to ask one important and simple question of staff “How much will this cost the taxpayers?” before they approve some scheme recommended by their City staff.

    Secondly, the developers no longer pay the costs for infrastructure changes required as a result of their developments. In the olden days, developers paid for the roads, the sewers, the sidewalks, the streetlights and even donated property for parks in order to compensate the public for the costs required to service their developments. These days the taxpayers pay these costs and the developers get the profits.

  • Scott

    I agree with gasp . This big mistake this Council made is STIR program . Anyone can build rental housings without providing funds for any infrastructure improvement of for any public amenities.

    I can understand what Jennifer is going through, it is not her or her husband’s fault . It is fault of our present and past Councils . I am prepare to pay 7% extra taxes to save service cuts and staff jobs.