Against the backdrop of slow growth and vanishing budget surpluses, which will make it a struggle to maintain existing city services, several municipal departments presented their budgetary wish lists to the Brantford estimates committee this week.
As a money-saving strategy, each department continuously looks for “service efficiencies” – sharing costs across departments, joint training, streamlined administration and other initiatives – to further stretch their budgets.
Delivering city services more efficiently is a universal goal, but department heads admit there is a limit to how many such “efficiencies” can realistically be found before service levels suffer.
County of Brant Ambulance Service
The County of Brant Ambulance Service is asking the city of Brantford to up its contribution to the service by 21.31 per cent compared to last year. If approved, the city’s 2013 contribution would climb $573,600 to a total of $3.3 million. The county’s contribution to the joint service would rise by the same percentage. The funds would put an additional ambulance on the road at all times and hire and train 10 full-time employees to staff it.
The request for additional funds is the result of a 20 per cent increase in calls for service and the resulting delays in response times, said manager of ambulance service Charles Longeway. The new ambulance, if approved, would hit the streets by July 1, 2013.
The ambulance service would also like to install lift assist power stretchers in each ambulance.
Brantford Fire Department
The outcome of the Hardy Road Ontario Municipal Board hearing will have a direct impact on the Brantford Fire Department. Should the roughly 1,200 new homes planned for the city’s northwest be approved, the department will need to consider purchasing a new pumper-rescue vehicle and building a new station at a cost of $2.5 million to ensure the department can meet its desired four-minute response time to all areas of the city.
Another option is to relocate Fire Station No. 2 at 311 St. Paul Ave. closer to Northridge Golf Course to serve the Hardy Road area. The station in its current state needs $100,000 in repairs and maintenance.
Fire Chief Jeff McCormick asked for a 1.82 per cent increase, equaling $278,959, over last year’s budget, which would set the 2013 fire department budget at $15.6 million. The bulk of the increase will go into training. A full 95 per cent of the department’s operating budget is eaten up by salaries and benefits.
Brantford Police Service
Through the Police Services Board, Brantford police are seeking a 3.22 per cent increase for 2013, which would represent the second-lowest increase during the past decade.
The total police budget would be $27.4 million, with 90 per cent of that tied to salaries and benefits. Employee contracts expire at the end of the year, so that budget figure is an estimate pending negotiations for 2013 salaries.
Police Chief Jeff Kellner noted that his service is understaffed. Brantford has 166 officers, which equals 173 officers per 100,000 people. The provincial average is 197 officers per 100,000 people and the national average is even higher at 201.
Public Health, Safety and Social Services Committee
The Public Health, Safety and Social Services Committee oversees Ontario Works Brant, housing – including the city’s 440 affordable housing units – and child care. In Brantford, unemployment is higher than the national average and more people are accessing social services.
Last year, Ontario Works helped 632 families apply for the Ontario Disability Support Program and enabled 43 young parents to earn their high school diplomas. The committee found stable housing for 300 homeless families or families at risk of eviction and helped another 180 families through the trusteeship housing program. With shelters such as Nova Vita and Rosewood at or near capacity, such programs are essential but “resource and time intensive,” said general manager of social services Dan Temprile.
The department is anxious to launch proposed neighbourhood hubs, where schools in high-need areas will become “hubs” for education, social services and health care at an annual cost to the municipality of $92,464. The province’s Consolidated Homeless Prevention Initiative requires the city to craft a 10-year housing and homelessness plan.
Despite these challenges, Temprile asked for a two per cent reduction in funding for Ontario Works, from $7.2 million to $7 million, thanks to municipal cost-sharing and increased provincial funding.
The housing budget would increase by 0.49 per cent to $7.9 million. The need for a variety of housing strategies will only grow along with the population, Temprile noted.
Public Works Commission
The Public Works Commission – a sprawling department that covers engineering services, operations, fleet and transit, environmental services, infrastructure and facilities and asset management, along with waste and water – plans to improve accommodation, boost the city’s data-gathering capacity to better monitor infrastructure and optimize performance at the wastewater treatment plant.
Public Works is asking for a 2.24 per cent increase to its net operating budget, up from $19.2 million to $19.7 million. As a separate item pertaining to water and wastewater services, which are funded by user fees as opposed to taxation, the department is looking for a 2.85 per cent increase, to $23.65 million.
The department is considering raises to transit fares, public parking rates and development review fees in order to augment revenues.
Library and John Noble Home
The Brantford Public Library Board and John Noble Home seek increases of $62,075 and $42,705, respectively.