'The wrong message': Vancouver cuts sanitation funding, hires $95K social media staffer

Vancouver council spending priorities under scrutiny

A Vancouver city councillor says the city needs to reassess its priorities, after it cut funding for street cleaning to hire a new social media staffer for the city manager’s office.

Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung says the city had budgeted more than $300,000 to improve sanitation and street cleaning this year. But in its quest to balance the budget amid COVID-19, council voted to slash that by $130,000.

At the same time, the city is now budgeting $95,000 to hire the city manager’s social media manager.

READ MORE: COVID-19 cash crunch: Vancouver mulls financial impact of 3-, 6- and 9-month lockdowns

“Given the fact that we have a hiring freeze at the City of Vancouver, we have 1,800 staff on temporary layoff, and all of our exempt staff have taken a 10 per cent pay cut, it just seems like the wrong message to send right now,” said Kirby-Yung.

“We have dozens of communications staff, and just like everybody is having to pivot and learn to work flexibly and prioritize, I think that’s what the city needs to do too.”

City Manager Sadhu Johnston was not available for an interview to discuss the social media job.

It’s also not clear why the city’s robust, existing communications department couldn’t handle the work. As of 2017, the city employed 21 full-time communications staff and a dozen part-time staffers.

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The city did not reply to Global News with updated numbers on that department by deadline.

Kirby-Yung says the move is especially ill-timed as homeowners are preparing for a seven per cent property tax increase.

She adds that the failure to fund new cleaning efforts also hits the wrong note with COVID-19 showing no signs of disappearing.

“The last thing you do is cut sanitation services when you have a pandemic,” she said.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said the cut to Vancouver’s sanitation budget would be $125,000. In fact, it would be $130,000. Global News regrets the error.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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