Council begins debate on operating budget

Red Deer City council will begin debate on the 2011 operating budget today, which totals $263.5 million.

Presentations for the operating budget got underway Jan. 4 where City departments laid out their funding requests for the year.

Some key budget initiatives include the RCMP member fee agreement at a cost of $850,000, Red Deer Public Library budget increase totaling $119,000, increased snow removal service at bus stops at a cost of $100,000 and an increase to the snow and ice control program.

Other highlights a include transit fleet increase totaling $235,000, as well as the purchase of an additional Action Bus, parks growth and crown paving.

If the operating budget is approved as presented, Red Deer residents are facing a 3.74% tax increase this year.

Based on the submitted budget, a home, which experienced the average assessment value change and is assessed at $280,000 for the 2011 tax year, will see an average monthly increase of $4.71, a weekly increase of $1.09 or a daily increase of 16 cents towards the services used on a daily basis.

However, during debate, council has the opportunity to cut items in the budget if they choose to.

Some of the potential cost saving that will be presented to council include reducing the hours of operation of recreation centres on statutory holidays and low use days, eliminating the tax pre-payment program, closing recreation centres on Sundays at 9 p.m., eliminating landfill coupons, closing four low use snow bank rinks, and not filling certain City vacancies until construction revenue increases. In addition to the cost savings, the Mountain View County dispatch and Newell 911 Association dispatch contracts will generate additional revenue for the City.

Red Deer city RCMP Supt. Brian Simpson said although his department isn’t asking for additional members this year, they certainly are needed.

“Ideally 10 more officers are needed this year,” he said. “I’m basing that number on what I’m seeing in our environment and the workload that we’re anticipating.”

In the 2012 operating budget the RCMP is slated to ask for 10 additional members, however, some members of council agreed they were needed sooner.

“I would be more than happy to fund those officers because I think they are needed,” said Councillor Chris Stephan. “Safety and security are the number one concerns for City residents according to the Ipsos Reid Survey.”

Howard Thompson, manager for the City’s land and economic department told council the municipality is in a good position when it comes to having enough industrial land going into the next couple of years, but on the residential side, the inventory is thin.

“Right now we only have a couple of years supply at the most,” he said. “We may see a period of five years or so of slow down with respect to demand if no acquisition is made.”

In addition, Kevin Joll, manager of the City’s transit department, said ridership has increased in Red Deer in the last six years.

“We average 27 passengers per hour, per bus the entire time they are operating,” he said. “During hours of operation we have 20 buses running at once.”

Joll added bus fees are also expected to rise this year.

Meanwhile, the 2011 capital budget was approved in December. Council approved a capital budget which totaled $86.2 million.