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Vancouver mayor defends move to cut sanitation funding, hire $95K social media staffer

Vancouver mayor defends spending priorities
WATCH: Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart is defending the decision to reallocate funds from the city's sanitation budget for the hiring of a new social media staffer. Jordan Armstrong reports.

Vancouver’s mayor is defending a decision to cut the sanitation budget and set aside $95,000 to hire a new social media manager amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kennedy Stewart told a news conference on Thursday that council is moving money around to deal with massive projected drop in revenue under the pandemic, and that sanitation is still a priority.

“The focus in, and target at, one position for a person who hasn’t been hired yet is kind of a weird story to follow,” he said.

READ MORE: ‘The wrong message’: Vancouver cuts sanitation funding, hires $95K social media staffer

A day earlier, Global News reported that city council had chopped $130,000 from the $300,000 set aside for sanitation and street cleaning this year in its quest to balance the budget amid the impact of COVID-19.

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At the same time, it is now budgeting $95,000 to hire someone to handle social media for city manager Sadhu Johnston.

Vancouver mayor questioned about high-paying social media position for city manager
Vancouver mayor questioned about high-paying social media position for city manager

Stewart did not give an answer when repeatedly asked about the number of communications staff the city already employs, instead praising the team for their work.

He was also asked about the optics of the city’s financial priorities, especially after about 1,800 municipal staff had been laid off because of the pandemic.

“What you’re setting up is a false narrative,” Stewart said.

“I’m very concerned about social disorder in this city. I’m very concerned about sanitation. I’m very concerned about rising crime levels. And so what we’re doing is trying to change our resources the way the city’s working in order to address these problems.”

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The city’s revenues will drop this year by $100 million to $300 million, he added.

Vancouver council spending priorities under scrutiny
Vancouver council spending priorities under scrutiny

After the news conference, spokesperson Gail Pickard responded to another attempt to get answers, and said the city has 25 regular full-time and 15 temporary full-time employees in its engagement and communications department.

But just one of them handles its more than 75 social media accounts.

“We have not laid off unionized staff in this department to date as the need to get timely, accurate information about city services to the public has spiked due to the pandemic,” Pickard said.

“As we have said in previous statements, the majority of the staff layoffs to date have been due to closure of facilities such as community centres and libraries.”

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READ MORE: Vancouver mayor says he was ‘blindsided’ by closed-door vote to cut police budget

Two weeks ago, council also voted to reduce the police department’s budget by one per cent, or about $3.5 million, which drew much protest from Chief Const. Adam Palmer over a lack of consultation.

The social media position will not be filled because of a hiring freeze under COVID-19, yet the money remains set aside.

— with a file from Sarah MacDonald