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Town of Banff looking at deeper salary cuts during COVID-19 pandemic

“Our primary focus has been on repurposing staff to the response effort to COVID, or putting them into positions where there are still essential services to be offered."
20200325 Banff Parks Closed COVID 19 0032
The playground in the Middle Springs subdivision is taped off as the Town of Banff made the decision to close all playgrounds to try and slow the spread of COVID-19. As a result of reduced service levels, the Town of Banff has laid off approximately 80 staff positions. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO⁠

BANFF – The Town of Banff is laying off employees as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

On top of staff that had already been let go over the past month, council last week directed administration to look at deeper cuts to the $18 million earmarked for wages and benefits in the 2020 operating budget.

Town Manager Kelly Gibson said there is also a hiring freeze in place.

“Our primary focus has been on repurposing staff to the response effort to COVID, or putting them into positions where there are still essential services to be offered,” he said.

“But we have had to resort to temporary layoffs and reduced hours, so if there isn’t work there for the staff, they are not performing duties at this time.”

This time last year, the Town had a head count of 282 employees, including full-time and part-time staff as well as seasonal workers. By April 1 this year, the Town reduced that to 200 employees.

By last week, there were 21 temporary layoffs, 27 employees working reduced hours, seven people using vacation time and 41 positions that were to be hired now cancelled.

Officials say this is changing weekly as the Town reduces work hours for some staff due to decreased service needed and implementing temporary layoffs and job sharing. Benefits are being retained for temporary layoffs. 

Jason Darrah, the Town of Banff’’s communications and marketing director, said total reduction from wages already on the table before last week’s two council meetings was approximately $600,000.

“We are going to come back with deeper cuts for next council meeting, since the total wages and benefits expenditure approved in the 2020 budget was almost $18 million,” he said.

To help residents and businesses during the COVID-19 crisis, council has asked administration to come up with four budget scenarios for consideration  – a 10, 15, 20 and 30 per cent reduction to the municipal tax levy compared to 2019.

As well as looking at further reductions in wages and benefits, council directed administration to prepare a budget considering a reduction in the $4.5 million transfer to capital reserves, using a portion of the $1.2 million surplus and cuts to programs and services.

Council met last Tuesday (April 14), then again on Thursday (April 16). At Thursday’s meeting, there was an in-camera meeting for council to get advice form officials on employee wages and benefits.

Councillor Peter Poole said the Town of Banff’s workforce has grown by 50 per cent in the last 10 years.

“I would suggest that our directors of our departments think about what sort of essential services we had 10 years ago,” he said at the April 14 council meeting. 

“Let’s imagine that we might actually have to go into something like that or more.”

During that meeting, Poole recommended a reduction in wages.

“I know that it will be really, really tough for many people and many people may not be able to take that,” he said.

“There may need to be some negotiation on that because some people have very fixed mortgage requirements and other requirements, but I would recommend wages and salary cuts.”

Coun. Grant Canning said he would support going down the road of wage reductions, rather than more layoffs.

“When you get into layoffs, you’re getting into a debate about what is a non-essential service and what is an essential services,” he said at the April 14 meeting.

“What is an essential service for one resident of the town might be very different than for another resident of town.”

Coun. Canning said he would prefer wage reductions over layoffs, perhaps on a sliding scale.

“Those who are perhaps more on the upper end of the income scale, perhaps they look at a higher percentage; those that are perhaps on the lower end of the income scale, perhaps they have a smaller percentage,” he said.

“It’s not just one straight percentage right across the board for every person … to me, that just seems a lot more equitable and more appropriate for different income levels.”

Coun. Corrie DiManno said the Town of Banff is not immune to job losses, given that up to 85 per cent of the townsite’s workforce has been laid off over the past month.

“The way I’m wrapping my head around it is if there’s less service being given to residents and visitors, then that would equate to less staffing resources or less time spent on the service being done,” she said during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I know we’ve been talking about wage cuts, but in my mind, I would like to see reduced hours, or if the position is no longer needed, I would rather see layoffs than reduction to salaries. That’s my preference right now, but I’m definitely open to other scenarios.”

Mayor Karen Sorensen said she is interested in looking at a model for more wage amendments, noting Coun. Canning’s sliding scale suggestion is interesting.

“I am not opposed to more layoffs if the people being laid off don’t have any work to do,” she said at the April 14 meeting.

“The people we’ve laid off at this point was because there was such a reduction in workload, and we couldn’t repurpose them.”

With some of the COVID-19 financial benefits available now, particularly through the federal government, Mayor Sorensen said layoffs could make more sense than cutting people’s hours or wages.

“I don’t know at what point it’s more appropriate for them to be laid off and access other funding models,” she said.

“I am more than happy to look at wages generally … I’m kind of putting it back on administration to bring us some models as to what works, but I am also not opposed to further layoffs if that makes sense.”


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