Funding for downtown safety initiatives was up for discussion during Monday’s City council operational budget deliberations.
The recommendation was to support a one-time allotment of $25,000 for the Downtown Community Development Committee (DCDC) and its stakeholders to work together in developing programs that enhance safety in the downtown.
Council supported the motion, with two opposed (Coun. Lawrence Lee and Coun. Buck Buchanan).
“The Downtown Business Association, the Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre, businesses in the downtown as well as not-for-profits such as Canadian Mental Health and Turning Point – they were all consulted as part of the safety strategy creation – those players all sit on the DCDC and they are working to increase the safety, and promote a safer community in our downtown,” said Sarah Cockerill, director of community services.
“Really, the gap that council saw at the time was the gap between social agencies and our business community and residents in the downtown being able to come together with a shared understanding, as well as how they could be proactive in having a safer neighbourhood for us all to live and work in,” she said, adding the first meeting was back in 2015.
“There are a myriad of agencies and businesses involved – anyone who is interested can come and sit at the table and hear what’s happening,” she said.
“It’s not a formal group – it’s about coming together, working collaboratively, leveraging each other to do something great for our downtown.”
Cockerill said the seed money has gone to many causes, such as Art Alley and the Buffalo Backyard, the wrapping of the electrical boxes and some of the needle debris initiatives. “They didn’t receive money in 2017, and their initiatives did decline significantly,” she said. “It’s a collaborative, networking opportunity where they decide where their priorities are, and make sure they aren’t duplicating services.”
In other budget news, City council also decided to support one-time funding allotments to the Central Alberta Economic Partnership ($40,167) for continued membership and the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery ($100,000).
“I encourage the council members who haven’t been to the CAEP office to go and have a visit with the director,” said Coun. Dianne Wyntjes, emphasizing the importance of continued membership with the group.
Coun. Michael Dawe agreed.
“It’s certainly something I will be supporting. I think we make a mistake sometimes (with relatively small savings) that we overlooked the larger part of Red Deer being part of a regional economic centre and a regional planning centre.”
As to the Museum, he pointed out that granting the funds isn’t about absolving the Museum of the goal to step up fundraising programs to build up their own independent sources of funding.
“This is not an issue of the Museum and Art Gallery per se, it’s an issue of changes in government policy and practice that are having a direct and indirect impact on the City of Red Deer budget,” added Mayor Tara Veer.
As to the caution council is showing in extensive discussion over expenditures in general, Lee noted that economic challenges are an overriding theme to these decisions. “I think there are two factors that come into play – one, a newer council and two, the economic times. It’s really at a point where things are starting to catch up now, and we have to diligently go line by line and ensure we are looking (at times) at not even maintaining in a lot of areas, but cutting back where it’s not a significant impact to the service levels that we’ve been delivering traditionally.”