I’m Bill Kingston with today’s commentary. Councillor Mark MacDonald appears to be going into the budget talks with one thing on his mind – chop five per cent by all means necessary. In a letter to the editor Sunday, MacDonald – a former firefighter – has his sights set firmly on emergency services, saying firefighters and police budgets are growing at a “disproportionate rate” and they “need to be dealt with.” With the police and fire budgets both made up of 91 per cent salaries and benefits, one could only conceive that MacDonald will make meaningful cuts by getting rid of some of the 64 full-time firefighters and 87 uniformed police officers. I sure hope that MacDonald has done his homework if that’s what the electorate is telling him to do – cut police and firefighters. MacDonald’s intentions are well-meant but misguided when he should be looking at the arbitration system that municipalities are bound to comply with when arbitrators make decisions on police and firefighter contracts. The city is bound by a contract to pay wages and salaries set out by the arbitrator. But MacDonald may have his chance to make a budget cut in another way. The city is recruiting four probationary firefighters – with the intent of making them permanent – a move that will eventually cross the desk of city hall when and if they’re hired. If MacDonald is staying true to his word, we should expect MacDonald to vote down hiring those firefighters but, as the adage goes, only time will tell. And, if you remember the last time the city delayed the hiring of a firefighter, it’s sure to cause fireworks.
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