Red Deer City councillors continue to work their way through the 2016 operating budget.
As of press time on Tuesday, councillors were still debating the budget, which they began working through last Wednesday. Council has lowered the tax rate, which began at 3.78%, to 3.08% as of end of day on Monday.
On Monday, much of the discussion surrounded the approval of new RCMP resources. Council approved the hiring of six new RCMP members and three municipal staff for a total cost of $567,000 – $135,000 in 2016 and $432,000 in 2017.
Supt. Scott Tod told council Red Deer currently has 149 RCMP officers with 80 of those as general duty members. He added typically each officer takes on 179 criminal cases annually.
“While the community wants a safe community, it’s an expensive proposition. We can’t police our way to a safe community. We can only ask our police to do so much,” said Councillor Ken Johnston. “The burden of a safe community rests on all of us.”
Council also approved funding for three additional police operations communication operators to extend the answering of the non-emergency complaint line from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Previously the communication operators worked 8-4:30 p.m., seven days a week.
The cost of this initiative is $313,190.
“For me it comes down to the service level obviously but also the superintendent of our City and the director of our City are both saying that this is necessary to leverage the Criminal Code effectiveness of our force – I am going to support this,” said Johnston.
Mayor Tara Veer said the addition of the police operations communication operators is much needed.
“This is one of the most significant areas of frustration for our community, particularly with the enforcement of non criminal areas such as the Community Standards Bylaw. This particular area previously shut down at 4:30 p.m. and typically people are home after 4:30 p.m.,” she said.
Council also approved $85,568 for the expansion of transit service to Garden Heights, Clearview Ridge and Timberlands on Sundays and holidays.
Earlier in the budget, council also approved an additional $16,000 for councillor professional development. Councillors were each allocated $11,477 annually for professional development – this will now increase $2,000 per councillor.
“There are different things in our committees that we are assigned throughout the term, differences in our interests as well as in our own different leadership style and how we learn,” said Councillor Dianne Wyntjes. “I am in support of the increase. I am one of the councillors who does use mine. It’s very interesting as a councillor because you come to the table with what you think you know, and you better have the insight to realize and recognize what you don’t know and fill your tool box with knowledge and skills.”
Other items approved in the 2016 budget include $183,640 for roads maintenance growth, $229,087 for new neighbourhood parks landscaping, $309,114 for preventative road maintenance, $504,500 for corporate fleet in the public works department, $187,876 for FireMedic staffing increases, $100,000 for storm drainage system cleaning, inspection and monitoring and $321,440 for building leases, among others.
In addition, during Monday’s meeting, Councillor Buck Buchanan made a motion that directed City administration to explore the consolidation of police and emergency services dispatch with a report to be brought back to council by the end of June.