Last fall, Mayor Doug Archer and many of Reginas councillors sought re-election promising to abolish the business tax, supposedly in a bid to help small and medium businesses create more jobs. In fact, the big winners appear to be large corporations such as Safeway and Eatons. (Some councillors have admitted they were influenced by Eatons threat to close its Regina store as part of its restructuring plans).
Councillors knew that cutting the business tax would reduce the citys revenues by about $18 million, but they
were counting on the prov-ince to make up the shortfall by giving the city grants in lieu of taxes on provincial government buildings.
Tax cuts lead to service cuts
Following the election, Regina council discovered the provinces promised grants would amount to less than $12 million. Undaunted, council approved the tax cut anyway, to be phased in over three years.
Reginas Public Library took the first hit. Facing a budget cut of more than $600,000 by the year 2000, the board is considering the closure of three inner-city library branches, an art gallery and film theatre.
But quick action by library workers, members of Local 1594, combined with public outrage at the possible loss of valuable services, have demonstrated that the board and council have a fight on their hands. Three Concerned Citizens committees have been formed and thousands have signed petitions. Both the union and community groups have presented briefs to the library board and city council and demonstrators have gathered in front of libraries and the local chamber of commerce.
Getting the boards attention
Weve finally got the boards attention, says Local 1594 president Suzanne Posyniak, but we dont intend to ease the pressure until they abandon their proposals to cut more services and find alternatives to make up the shortfall.
Posyniak points out that the library boards earlier decision to shut down their audio-visual department was ill-advised and short-sighted. Alleging a $200,000 budget shortfall, the Board discovered after closing the department last year that they actually had a $620,000 operating surplus. But instead of using this money to ease the crisis caused by the business tax cut, the board transferred $450,000 into a fund for future library construction!
The local has gained the support of CUPE Saskat-chewan in its fight and will be stepping up its campaign, using ads, leaflets, lobbying and more public rallies in an effort to save Reginas library system.
Were going to focus on politicians at all levels provincial, municipal and library board in an effort to persuade them that public services are more important than helping increase the profit margins of business, Posyniak says.