City to hire seasonal workers this year, despite 'hiring freeze'

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Winnipeg will hire part-time workers this summer to cut grass and perform other seasonal duties, despite the "hiring freeze" declared by the chief financial officer last week.

Winnipeg chief administrative officer Doug McNeil told council's finance committee this morning that austerity measures initially described as a hiring freeze are actually aimed more at the middle-management level of city hall and should not result in service cuts.

In a report to the committee, the city's corporate finance department announced a freeze on hiring new staff other than police, paramedics, firefighters and bus drivers as well as restrictions on discretionary spending and potential delays of capital projects.

The move is in place because the city's budget called for a $9.5-million transfer in non-existent surplus funds from 2016 as well as a further $7.7-million worth of savings through "efficiencies," which usually translate into delays in filling vacant positions.

Council finance chair Scott Gillingham (St. James-Brooklands-Weston) said it is now clear seasonal workers will be hired this this summer. He said the goal is for the city to trim costs "with minimal impact to service."​

South Winnipeg-St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes said the city has not implemented a hiring freeze. She called it more of a chill on hiring, announced to achieve a dramatic effect while the city is engaged in bargaining with several of its unions — and ahead of a provincial budget announcement.

"It's not really a freeze. Our street cleaning and our lawn care and our parks, that's still proceeding as the norm," Lukes said. "Sometimes you know, when there's drama and a little action in relation to finance, I guess people think twice. They look maybe in more detail. That's not a bad thing."

Gillingham insisted the city's austerity's measures are not for show and said it wouldn't be wise for the city to wait and see what happens with the budget later in the year.

He nonetheless acknowledged it may not have been wise for the city to bank on surplus funds from 2016 to help balance the 2017 budget. The city wound up $5.1 million in the red last year.

"This was my first budget," said Gillingham, who was appointed finance chair several weeks before the budget was released.

"I intend to learn the lessons that have been learned from this budget to make any changes that might be needed."