Winnipeg emergency services asked to look for savings by city

Municipal elections in Manitoba are taking place this fall, but there are not a lot of candidates outside the city. The Canadian Press

The heads of Winnipeg’s emergency services are being told to look for savings themselves before drawing from the Financial Stabilization Reserve to cover over-expenditures.

“That’s simply unrealistic,” Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth said bluntly on Friday when asked by the finance committee if he could find some way to offset a $7.2-million shortfall in the 2021 budget.

The police service had been looking to the city to cover the difference, which is primarily a result of a retroactive increase to the force’s pension plan.

Read more: City of Winnipeg projects $16.6M deficit due to COVID-19

That increase was not realized until after the 2021 budget had been prepared.

Smyth said the force had already achieved $4.5-million in savings through reduced overtime and vacancy management, and anything more would result in cuts to services.

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Councillor Sherri Rollins, of the Fort-Rouge East Fort Garry ward, said she appreciated the Winnipeg Police Services’ efforts in finding efficiencies, but wanted another option before relying on the city to foot the bill.

“In this case, we have no option or alternative. So for the 2021 budget, I’d like to see an option or alternative to the financial stabilization reserve within the Winnipeg Police Services’ budget on how they may achieve the savings,” Rollins said.

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg’s 2021 budget prioritizes growth during the COVID-19 pandemic'
Winnipeg’s 2021 budget prioritizes growth during the COVID-19 pandemic

Councillor John Orlikow, of the River Heights-Fort Garry ward, agreed.

“It wouldn’t be a full exhaustive list, it would be one idea, maybe two,” Orlikow said.

“I don’t believe for the police department, it would be that onus of a task, they probably have most of the information already, so I think we can — I support Councillor Rollins’ motion,” Orlikow said.

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Similarly, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service had been looking to the city to cover a $3.3-million shortfall, mostly related to extra overtime pay.

“I do think it’s important that the public transparently understand the risk that council face when looking at budgets,” Rollins told Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) Chief Christian Schmidt.

Read more: City of Winnipeg releases financial forecast

The Finance committee moved separately that both emergency services departments report back in November with another option to cover the shortfalls without dipping into the Financial Stabilization Reserve.

The decision for the WFPS was unanimous, while Finance Committee Chair Scott Gillingham was the lone dissent regarding the Winnipeg Police Service.

“I just don’t think it’s realistic,” Gillingham said.

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