Council continues operating budget debate

  • Jan. 14, 2015 3:24 p.m.

Red Deer City council continues with debate of the 2015 operating budget. As of press time on Tuesday, council was still in discussions regarding the budget and it hadn’t been approved in full.

The proposed budget totaled $329 million. The 2015 capital budget, totaling $17.3 million, was approved in November.

Some of the items approved in this year’s operating budget so far include $80,000 for downtown initiatives which includes the Ross Street Patio.

Council heard the cost to put up and take down the patio each year is $60,000. Another $20,000 is needed for programming that takes place during the season.

Administration decreased this year’s budget for the Ross Street Patio, which has been approved for a total of $105,000 in previous years. Some programming will be decreased this year but the City hopes that sponsors will come forward and help with events.

Funding for the Ross Street Patio was also approved as ongoing funding for the City as opposed to one time funding as it has been each year it has previously operated.

Councillor Frank Wong wanted to see the initiative moved back to one time funding so it would come back for council approval annually.

“Not all of the downtown businesses have been on board with the patio so I think it’s good to have this come back every year,” he said.

Councillor Lynne Mulder disagreed. “We have done this for a couple of years now and I don’t want to discuss it every year. It has demonstrated its success.”

Council approved the funding on an ongoing basis.

The City will also hire some new employees this year.

The RCMP and City fire department will see an increase in employees. Council approved six new RCMP officers and three municipal support staff at a cost of $559,650. Also approved was 10 new firemedics for a total of $877,165.

RCMP Supt. Scott Tod told council that currently there are 147 RCMP officers on staff in the City. He added there are about 130 Criminal Code cases per officer in the City. The provincial average is 90 cases per officer.

A grants resource position was also approved at a cost of $47,500. This newly hired employee will allow the City to consolidate the grant accounting and reporting. They will also provide additional capacity to research grant sources and assist with the completion of grant applications.

“This is something that is needed and quite frankly it should have been brought forward earlier,” said City Manager Craig Curtis.

Councillor Lawrence Lee agreed. “We need someone who is specifically and technically slated to help us achieve and secure grants that are needed. I think the City will benefit greatly from having this kind of expertise.”

New staff will also be hired to provide weekend coverage for Animal Control Services. Council approved the expenditure at $75,000.

Staff with Animal Control Services currently only work Monday to Friday. The additional funding will allow for two officers to work on the weekend – as council heard that 60% of calls for service happen on the weekends. As well, the shelter will be open on Saturday as well.

“We are a growing City and so our pet population grows as well. I think that this is value for the dollar,” said Councillor Ken Johnston.

A new part-time councillor administrative support was also approved for a total of $24,588. Johnston said he is looking forward to having someone in that role.

“The role of a councillor is complex so this will help us to be more effective,” he said.

Lee agreed. “This position is much more demanding than I would have expected and I hope the community recognizes that this position is as much for them as it is for us.”

Other items approved include a project manager for the Riverlands redevelopment at a cost of $137,870; a senior engineer for $118,018 and new neighbourhood parks landscaping at a cost of $260,623. The City will also ‘green the fleet’ for a cost of $740,244. The funding will allow for the addition of a second shift at the garage, the addition of a second fleet technologist, increases in fuel price and volume consumed, increased parts costs, increased insurance costs, increased leasing costs and increased National Safety Code training costs for the public works department.