February 1, 2017 9:47 pm
Updated: February 2, 2017 9:30 am

Halifax councillors balk at proposed cuts to parks and rec budget

Cancelling lifeguarding services at four Halifax beaches is one of several proposed cuts to the Parks and Recreation budget. Staff say the cuts are needed if council wants the department to meet its budget targets.

File photo / Global News

Halifax councillors are signalling they want to dial back close to $1 million in proposed cuts to the city’s parks and recreation budget.

During Wednesday’s budget consultations, parks director Brad Anguish outlined $857,000 in proposed savings made from a mix of program cuts and a fee hike. He said the changes were needed if council wants his department to stay within the $26.2-million budget it was allotted for the 2017 budget year.

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The cuts include ending funding and staff wages for the Jumpstart program, cutting volunteer support service, and ending lifeguarding at four beaches while user fees would increase for artificial turf fields. The beaches are the Dingle, Blackrock, Government Wharf and Kinsmen.

Anguish characterized his department’s budgeting process as “very difficult.”

During debate, Deputy Mayor Steve Craig proposed restoring the funding for volunteer services – under the current proposal it would be cut by $125,000. That option and several others were added to a list for council to consider as the budget process continues.

District 16 Councillor Tim Outhit said he would support a tax hike in order to save some of the services on the chopping block. On a motion from Outhit, council added restoring funding for Jumpstart, employee discounts, parks maintenance and all-weather field monitors to the list for further consideration.

The budget presentation also highlighted how little Halifax spends on parks per capita compared to a national average. In 2015, Halifax’s operating costs for parks was 40 per cent of the national benchmark. Halifax spent $27.30 per person on parks compared to the national benchmark of $68.21.

District 7 Councillor Waye Mason made a proposal for staff to look at what it would take for the parks operating costs to be increased to 80 per cent of the national benchmark for per capita costs. Councillors passed that motion.

Municipal staff are expected to give an update on council’s requests for changes to the parks and recreation budget at the February 10 meeting.

Complete list of proposed changes and savings

  • Stop lifeguarding at four beaches: $44,000.
  • Eliminate Jumpstart funding and staff wages: $146,000
  • Remove monitors on all-weather fields: $60,000
  • Adhere to D level field service: $5,000
  • Eliminate employee discount: $15,000
  • Increase fees for artificial turf fields: $81,000
  • Reduce availability of portable washrooms: $5,000
  • Defer maintenance for parks: $76,000
  • Cut volunteer support services: $125,000
  • Reduce multi-district facility contribution, staff report says it’s no longer needed: $300,000

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