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Halifax councillors are opting for smaller cuts to police and fire services, meaning fewer police positions will be left vacant and a fire station in Upper Sackville will remain open.
Council’s budget committee voted in favour of two motions from Coun. Tony Mancini at its meeting on Tuesday. The motions reduce cuts to Halifax Regional Police and Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency budgets to $3.5 million.
They’d started the recast COVID-19 budget process with cuts of $5.5 million and $5.4 million, respectively. Councillors approved a motion from Mancini last week to seek options for lesser cuts for both departments of $4.5 million and $3.5 million. On Tuesday, they went with $3.5 million.
For the police budget, the reduced cut means there will only be 12 positions left vacant this year, as opposed to 28 in the original proposal.
There will still be 30 positions left vacant in the fire department this year, but the original plan to close Station 11 (Upper Sackville) and reduce staffing at either Station 56 (Black Point) and 50 (Hammonds Plains) or 60 (Herring Cove) and move the staff to Station 28 (Sheet Harbour) is now off the table. The $3.5 million cut also means the department will restore funding to a volunteer firefighter honorarium and most of the funding for a PTSD treatment program.
They’ve yet to finalize the plan, along with the rest of the city’s recast COVID-19 budget. Municipal staff will come back to council’s budget committee with funding options.
Chief financial officer Jane Fraser told councillors on Tuesday that they have about $16 million available in one-time surplus money from the 2019-2020 budget. They could also choose not to put $12 million in the city’s reserve accounts this year, freeing that money up for the budget.
In the meantime, council’s budget committee will meet again on Thursday morning to continue the process of picking and choosing from a list of items for which they’d like to restore funding. The budget is expected to be finalized on June 9.
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What was the vote count for the final motion?
Police: 14-2, with Hendsbee and Whitman voting no. Fire: unanimous.