CBRM council ponders potential impact of 10% budget cut

Cape Breton regional councillors are hoping a new staff report will help convince the Nova Scotia government to provide more money to the municipality.

They asked senior staff how a 10 per cent budget cut would affect each of the CBRM's departments, but the answer was just too tough to swallow.

Council received the report on Monday, but the chief administrative officer said staff would never recommend it and councillors said they would not implement it.

Mayor Cecil Clarke said CBRM has already cut everything it can.

"If we do not have new revenue streams and capacity on the operating side, there will be some tough choices to make," he said.

According to the report, a 10 per cent cut would mean the loss of 75 employees.

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It would also mean cuts to arts, culture and tourism organizations and an end to Canada Day and New Year's activities.

Arenas would close, library hours would be cut and grants for heritage and low-income housing would be gone.

For more than a decade, CBRM has faced a declining population, shrinking revenues and increasing costs, and Clarke has said the status quo is not an option.

The municipality got the province to agree to fund a viability study by accounting firm Grant Thornton, which found that CBRM would need help to break out of its budget woes.

Although Clarke said the latest staff report was designed to support the viability study's conclusions, he said it was not a cynical exercise to squeeze more money from the province.

"It's a sincere exercise about where, if you had to cut, would you look at," said Clarke.

Marie Walsh, CBRM's chief administrative officer, said the municipality's ability to raise revenues is severely restricted.

Tom Ayers/CBC

She said some new user fees could be implemented, but the province would need to amend legislation to make them possible.

Walsh said some citizens could pay more property taxes, but the province's capped assessment program means some homeowners would continue to get an unfair break on taxes, while others would continue to pay more than their share.

CBRM has recently had difficulty recruiting for some staff positions, she said, and as a result of the latest report, Walsh has had to deal with employees upset at the possibility of job losses.

"I told them that it's really just an exercise to show that we've already improved our efficiency as much as we feel we can," she said.

Walsh said senior staff would never recommend the cuts, "but if given the directive of 10 per cent, this is where we would have to go."

Tough choices

Clarke said there was never any intention to implement them, but he said without new funding from the province, CBRM will have to make tough choices.

"To make those choices, you have to say what, literally, is on the so-called menu that you're going to have to select from, because it's not going to be a pleasant meal you're going to be selecting, so it is very sincere," the mayor said.

"At the same time, it's telling."

CBRM planned to meet with the Department of Municipal Affairs on Tuesday to push for more funding.

Council is scheduled to hammer out the details and finalize the municipal budget later this week.

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