Vancouver mayor angers first responders with warning about possible layoffs
VANCOUVER -- The mayor of Vancouver is warning unless the provincial government steps in, the city could end up bankrupt. And because municipalities aren’t allowed to run deficits, Kennedy Stewart says severe budget cuts could include layoffs to police officers and firefighters.
“The fire department is funded basically through property taxes. If we’re finding massive losses in property taxes, then we would have to address our budget, and same with police," said Stewart.
"The police department, they have a quarter billion dollar a year operating budget, and it almost all comes through property taxes."
A new poll found about a quarter of Vancouver residents don’t think they can pay their entire property tax bill this year because of COVID-19 layoffs, and that would have a severe impact on the city’s bottom line.
“We offer the core services that keep citizens safe and the economy moving, and these are under threat now because of our financial situation,” said Stewart. “Half of our budget is really protective services, fire and police. About 70 percent of our overall budget is labour, so really what we’re forced to do is lay off people.”
Longtime Vancouver police member and president of the Canadian Police Association Tom Stamatakis says he was shocked by Stewart’s comments.
“I’m not hearing other mayors in other parts of the country engage in this type of messaging,” said Stamatakis. “At a time when first responders are feeling already very anxious about their work and the services to the city, I don’t think that’s the time to be talking about we think the city’s going to go bankrupt, or we’re gonna have to lay off police and firefighters.”
Stamatakis says VPD members he’s spoken to are angry, adding “I don’t think that’s the kind of messaging we need to hear from a mayor at this particular time.”
The mayor’s dire message was likely designed to get the provincial government to consider a financial bail out for cities. Stewart has a call scheduled with the B.C.’s Minister of Municipal Affairs Selena Robinson later this week.
In a statement to CTV News, Robinson said: “We are working closely with our partners, including the Municipal Finance Authority and the Union of B.C. Municipalities, to develop solutions and a path forward to support local governments like Vancouver and will have more to say as soon as we can in the coming weeks.”
Stamatakis says he supports the mayor going to the province for financial help, but doesn’t think Stewart should be talking about possibly laying off first responders.
“I think it sends the wrong message to people who are doing important work out there, who are worried about their own health and safety, who are worried about the health and safety of their families,” Stamatakis said.