Heated night at Dawson Creek public budget meeting

Dawson Creek residents packed the Co-op Mercer Hall Monday night to make their voices heard on the City’s proposed budget.

At the top of the list of concerns was the proposed reduction of the DC police nomination from 25 to 22.

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“Council should be looking to expand the police force, not reduce it,” noted one audience member.

High crime rates were noted.

“There’s hard working men who budget for their truck to be stolen,” said David Rattigan.

Representatives from Rural Crime Watch expressed their displeasure with the move.

“We as an organization are very disappointed with council and budget staff to even contemplate cutting through attrition three RCMP members,” said Art Seidl.

They note that with lower numbers of police officers, that the four officers dedicated to rural areas have to spend more time in Dawson and not in the rural.

“It’s really frustrating trying to get a police officer in a rural area,” said Alan Watson.

Audience members also were frustrated about capital projects like the airport runway extension — which council had earlier in the day voted not to commit to for now — and paving the Encana Events Centre parking lot, while the City cuts services, funding for community groups and jobs.

“To see our services being cut to fly in more oil and gas workers is disappointing,” said Jamie Bond, who is losing her position as a library assistant because of the proposed cuts in operations.

Speaking on the runway, one audience member noted, “My worry is they’re building this on the belief of if we build it, they will come.”

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Representatives from CUPE put Council on blast for the cuts affecting workers.

“Reducing lawn mowing and parks care won’t improve the quality of life for residents, and it won’t improve park use or the safety of those parks,” said Karen Ranalletta, a general vice president of CUPE BC. “The proposed cuts to the library are extremely disappointing and alarming. Communities thrive when they have a robust public library system. It’s one of the last truly democratic community spaces that exist where you don’t have to have the expectation that you need to spend money.

“Budget cuts aren’t just line items on a spreadsheet, but they’re actual human beings and these are the people who live and contribute to Dawson Creek economically and socially. These people are our friends and our neighbours.”

Some of the employees affected by the cuts were highlighted.

Melanie Turcotte, who worked for the City for 21 years and was two years away from retirement, had her position as sustainability clerk eliminated in the proposed cuts.
Lloyd Garvin, who can be seen everyday cleaning the streets downtown, has worked for the City for 29 years and was four years away from retirement. His job is reduced in the proposed cuts.

“To put me back where I started from is pretty hard to take,” said Garvin.

Some of the speakers criticized the raises in pay for council, while jobs are being cut and reduced.

“Everyone has said the City is in financial trouble, the idea of City Council giving themselves a raise is a little off,” said archivist Denee Renouf, whose position is not funded by the City in the proposed budget. “How does City Council justify their raise at the expense of other people’s jobs?”

Council responds

It was a night in the hot seat for Council, who were on the defensive, about everything from cuts to their pay.

“This isn’t an easy thing. This hurts us personally,” said Mayor Dale Bumstead. “To build a financially strong community requires us to make some tough decisions.”

“There’s a financial issue in the City of Dawson Creek,” said Councillor Blair Lekstrom. “We have lived beyond our means for a long, long time.”

“Realistically, we as a City, can provide whatever services you want at whatever level you’d like provided, as long as we’re willing to pay for them,” said Councillor Jerimy Earl. “And the issue we’ve been running into is we have not been paying the true cost of operating this City for the last 15 to 20 years.”

On the issue of raises, Bumstead defended it, noting that a remuneration committee set it in 2017 to offset a tax increase, and that the positions need to be compensated fairly to attract a diverse field of candidates from the community.

“I don’t care how much money I make, I was born and raised here,” he said. “I do it because I love this community.”

Councillors with day jobs noted the difficulty of managing the role with their jobs. Earl and Shaely Wilbur noted they have had to use up vacation days to attend council meetings and functions. Earl noted he is nearly out of vacation time months into his term and will have to use unpaid time off.

“In the end, it actually cost me money to represent all of you,” said Wilbur, noting the raise puts an extra $88 per month on her paycheque. “I would gladly give that money back [the raise], if it meant that we could change these changes that are being proposed.”

Prior to the meeting, Council had noted that final decisions wouldn’t be made until after public consultation, which has now taken place. A special budget meeting is planned for Wednesday, March 20.

reporter@dcdn.ca 

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