Red Deer City council approved police and municipal resource funding during operational budget deliberations on Friday, continuing to call on the Province to close the distance between rural and urban funding gaps.
Ultimately, the funding will go towards three new members and two municipal employee positions as well, council decided.
The funding will also support an officer who will work with the Central Alberta Children’s Advocacy Centre, which council said was a critical aspect to where some of the funding will be directed.
“I think this resolution allows us to continue our plan to essentially fund five new officers per year,” said Mayor Tara Veer, adding that success has been seen over the past year with the addition of the downtown policing unit, for example.
“I think this a good plan, it attends to the requests of priority areas, it allows us to not compromise on the decisions we’ve made in the past and in the coming year, in 2020, to continue to shift to a more proactive model of community safety,” she said.
She also referred to the discrepancy in funding between rural and urban municipalities as an ongoing struggle for council to deal with.
“The Province is also subsidizing police resources needed for children and youth in rural Alberta but notably not in Alberta’s urban centres,” said Veer.
“I think that is absolutely unacceptable, and we call on them to close the two-tiered service gap that exists between the safety of children and youth in urban and rural Alberta,” she said.
Coun. Ken Johnston agreed.
“The provincial inequity between municipal and rural is not just a gap, it’s a chasm,” he said.
“It’s becoming the Grand Canyon…as it relates to support around policing,” he added.
Meanwhile, the support for the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre is critical, councillors agreed.
“These cases need to be dealt with swiftly to minimize the trauma to kids, and having the right people in place as a dedicated resource will allow that to happen,” said Coun. Tanya Handley. “I definitely support this 100 per cent.”
Coun. Vesna Higham agreed, pointing out the enormous need for support that is and will be needed at the Centre in light of the number of cases of crime against children.
Overall, citizen satisfaction surveys have shown that concerns over crime are a top issue for local residents.
Coun. Lawrence Lee pointed out that he’s looking forward to the policing review to help, “Clearly understand for our citizens that the money that we are stewards of and responsible for is being used effectively.
“There comes a point when policing isn’t just officers on the street. It’s having to work with justice, having to work with the framework of backlog in our community, working with advocacy at federal levels, at provincial levels.
“We’ve identified in this budget a number of areas where we’ve needed to close gaps and to make sure that the City is getting its fair share of equity in terms of rural policing versus urban policing and officer funding.”
That’s why, essentially, it’s always important to test the systems to ensure as high level of efficiency as possible, he said.
Other highlights from Friday included $91,537 towards the economic development program expansion and $200,000 for rough sleeper camps and debris clean-up.
“We will continue with the funding this year to respond to very significant community safety concerns (in relation to) of drug drug debris and rough sleeper camps throughout the park system and downtown,” said Veer.
The funding for this initiative was launched last year.
Looking ahead, on Jan. 14th, council will take a look at funding for various agencies and community groups and services.
This year’s proposed Operating Budget is based on council’s Strategic Plan, guidelines established by council, initiatives in City department service plans and feedback from citizens regarding community safety.
The Budget as recommended to council has an increase of $3,336,384 or the equivalent of a 2.50 per cent tax increase in the municipal portion of the property tax bill.
The $121 million 2019 Capital Budget was approved last November.