A 5% cut to Cornwall's emergency, protective services means job losses and service reductions

A 5% cut to Cornwall's emergency, protective services means job losses and service reductions
Cornwall Standard-Freeholder

The heads of the Cornwall police, the fire department and the bylaw enforcement office all say there is no way to cut five per cent out of their budgets for the next four years without it causing the services they provide to residents to deteriorate.

Coun. Mark MacDonald had proposed police, fire, bylaw enforcement and EMS services be amalgamated into a new public safety department and that the commissioner of this new department be directed to cut the budget by 20 per cent over the next four years. The councillor argued this can be done without it negatively impacting service delivery.

MacDonald had offered this proposal to his colleagues Friday, saying if they supported it, he would support the 2018 budget without further cuts. Further cuts were made and MacDonald voted against the 2018 budget Monday.

Cornwall Community Police Service acting Chief Danny Aikman, fire chief Pierre Voisine and chief building official Chris Rogers (who oversees bylaw enforcement), all say they don’t see how to cut that much money from their budgets without it harming service delivery. The Standard-Freeholder wasn’t able to reach EMS service chief Bill Lister on Monday, but the paramedics have previously warned they are already struggling to keep response times within acceptable ranges at current funding levels.

All four departments say they already have “bare-bones” budgets, three-quarters of which are made up of wages and benefits expenses.

Rogers said, if anything, the bylaw enforcement should be expanded, not cut. While the department might be able to weather a five per cent cut for one year with only minor disruption to services, 20 per cent would require a serious scale-back of enforcement.

“A single bylaw officer enforces about five to six different bylaws ... so any cuts at all would probably result in some depreciation of services, “ said Rogers. “If 20 per cent were cut over four years, then you are looking at calls to animal control for things like dog bites that we would not be able to be as responsive as the community has come to expect.

“I say that because we get quite a few complaints from the community about wandering dogs and dog bites. We simply wouldn’t be able to maintain the same level of response.”

Voisine said any cut to his budget would force the fire department to “have a conversation about our levels of service.” A five per cent cut would require cutting firefighters.

“That means we would have to look at our whole response model, such as whether or not we conduct rescues and all those things,” he Voisine. “The Fire Prevention Act says that council is responsible for the needs and circumstances of its fire department. So if they are going to reduce our budget, it means they have decided to address our needs with a different level of service.”

The Cornwall Community Police Service finds itself in much the same position as the other departments; with the only option to cut staff positions or the precious fraction of the budget for things like equipment or gas for their cruisers. Aikman was circumspect when asked how police would cut five per cent from its budget.

“We would have a conversation with the (police) board about whether such a five per cent cut would impact adequate and effective policing in Cornwall,” he said. “Eighty-seven per cent of our budget is in salaries and benefits, so ... there’s nothing material in our budget that you could pull and get a five per cent reduction, so it would obviously have to be staffing.”

Unlike the other departments, though, the police force is in a position to challenge a decision by council to cut its budget. If the police board doesn’t agree with the amount of money council sets for the police service, it can appeal the matter to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.

“There would be some form of a hearing with regards to what the appropriate amount of money to fund policing,” said Aikman.

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