Budget crunch: Hamilton to cut 23 jobs citywide
More positions still could be axed as council seeks to keep tax hike in line; non-union staff affected so far
The city has taken the rare step of cutting 23 management and other nonunion jobs — so far — in a bid to tame a threatened tax hike.
Councillors and top bureaucrats didn’t rule out a second round of job or service cuts before this year’s budget is approved, either. But those discussions remain behind closed doors for now — even as the city formally invites members of the public to address council about the budget Thursday at 3 p.m. at City Hall.
City manager Chris Murray said Wednesday night 11 directors, five managers and seven administrative staffers have either been terminated or agreed to early retirements. A handful of axed positions were already vacant and five additional managerial jobs have been downgraded to less senior supervisory roles.
The changes are expected to save $3.3-million a year — the equivalent of $14 savings on this year’s average tax bill. But first, the city has to swallow about $1.4 million in expected severance and related costs.
Murray called the rare spate of cuts “a difficult decision, but necessary” in light of council’s request to slice $20 million out of a 2017 operating budget that otherwise threatens to hike the average tax bill by four or five per cent.
The city manager said the job cuts should not have an “appreciable negative impact” on city residents but added existing managers will shoulder extra duties.
“It’s a major reduction in senior leadership, no doubt about it,” he said. “I don’t want anyone thinking this is a walk in the park. It’s not.”
Murray also warned there is “more work to be done” on restructuring, in particular with an upcoming look at whether to combine emergency services and public health departments.
Council has been discussing possible job-cut scenarios behind closed doors for several weeks. The Spectator learned some of those discussions have revolved around a secret consulting report that recommended up to 45 Ontario Works staff cuts last year.
Coun. Terry Whitehead said politicians are mindful of the “human cost” of any staff cuts but added council members have a responsibility to protect taxpayers. “I think this is round one,” he said, pointing to the ongoing debate over the Ontario Works report.
Coun. Chad Collins, who put forward a motion last year to look at the labour force and potential hiring freezes, said it’s also possible council will look at limited service cuts.
Some councillors say they expected senior staff to float possible service cuts like closing one of the two underperforming Chedoke golf courses, or ending operation of some money-losing arena concession stands. But so far, city budget staff has not confirmed these topics will be formally presented to council.
The last time the city cut more than 20 jobs at one time was in 2013, when operation of the city’s major entertainment facilities (formerly known as HECFI) were privatized. By the end of that process, more than 25 positions were phased out.
Hamilton is also following in the footsteps of other cash-strapped cities by cutting staff.
Brampton unloaded more than 25 managers last year while Ottawa cut more than 180 managers and unionized workers in 2016.
Hamilton residents were taxed for $828 million last year, with a 1.8per cent average tax hike that added $67 to the so-called average owner of a home worth $295,300.
Over five years, the successive sub-two per cent increases have still added $317 to that average tax bill, plus another $124 for extra water rates. Those hikes are among the lowest in Ontario cities.
I don’t want anyone thinking this is a walk in the park. It’s not. CITY MANAGER CHRIS MURRAY
Chris Murray: Moves are “major reduction”