The Remai Modern Art Gallery was the focus of concern and budget cuts by Saskatoon city council on the first day of budget deliberations Wednesday.
After several unsuccessful attempts to have CEO Gregory Burke reveal an opening date, council voted unanimously to cut municipal funding to the facility by $75,000.
“It was not a very good presentation,” said Ward 1 Councillor Darren Hill. “When he’s being asked (questions) by city council, who are determining his funding, he should be answering.”
Hill spear-headed the motion to reduce the funding, suggesting that without a firm opening date the gallery may not need a human resources manager or a guest experience co-ordinator.
He noted SaskTel Centre and TCU Place, which are also municipal operations, don’t have HR managers.
“They have significantly higher staff numbers than the Remai Modern,” he said. “They use our corporate HR services.”
Council doesn’t have the jurisdiction to specifically direct an agency to cut their budget in a specific way. While the gallery can go in the direction Hill suggested, they can choose to find the money elsewhere in their budget.
Burke told council it was “industry practice” to only reveal an opening date for a gallery six months out. Under pressure he suggested the opening would be some time mid-year.
Remai Modern Art Gallery was originally asking for a $166,000 increase over their 2016 budget, and a total funding level of $5.19 million.
Capital reserve funds re-directed
The gallery was one of two funding victims on the first day of budget deliberations.
An administrative brand promotion program, set to be funded by the City’s capital reserve, was deferred to 2018. The cut would have saved the budget $70,000 but it was quickly allocated to other projects.
A $40,000 “sponsorship” was provided to the Meewasin Valley Authority rink near Bessborough Gardens. The MVA had asked the City to take over operation of the rink at the beginning of November.
The remaining $30,000 was directed towards playground upgrades across the city, adding to a budget line that already sat at $450,000.
Police, library budgets pass uncontested
While the policing budget has caused hold-ups in the deliberation process in previous years, Saskatoon police got what they asked for from the new council.
Their $93.1 million budget passed unscathed, including a request for six new officers and the equivalent of 4.3 civilian staff.
“I think it sends a strong message… to the citizens of Saskatoon,” said Police Chief Clive Weighill. “The board of police commissioners and city council are listening to some of the concerns they have.”
Of the six new officers, four will be assigned to patrols east of the South Saskatchewan River where property crime rates have risen by 24 per cent in recent years.
That translates to one more officer on each shift.
The Saskatoon Public Library also avoided grief from councillors, who unanimously approved a $1.87 million increase to the organization’s budget.
The majority of the increase comes from $1.3 million in inflationary costs, while $375,000 is being invested in the new Rounds Prairie branch and $225,000 to go towards longer operating hours at two locations.
Near the end of the evening, council approved a 3.5 per cent increase in municipal electricity rates beginning January 1.
The increase represents a $4/month charge to the average household.
Water rates are also set to increase by 9.5 per cent in 2017, followed by 9.25 per cent in 2018 and 2019.
Those jumps are designed to fund infrastructure upgrades, including the city-wide replacement of lead water pipes.
Despite the rising rates, the percentage increase is still lower than any other major prairie city.
Budget deliberations continue Thursday and Friday. Follow CKOM News Reporter Chris Vandenbreekel on Twitter for live updates.