Red Deerians will see some differences when it comes to major services approved under the 2012 operating budget.
The snow and ice removal budget was beefed up by just over $572,000, boosting the total amount to $2.9 million. The additional amount would allow for a full residential plow, if needed. Plus, council invested $200,000 into a reserve fund. The reserve, which was established last year, was used up due to high cost of snow removal in 2011.
Councillor Lynne Mulder said she’s thrilled with the snow removal budget.
“If there’s one thing we heard from the public, they wanted us to address snow removal and we did that,” Mulder said. “I think we made some really good progress and I hope our citizens are happy with that. I really love it that we have our sidewalks looked after for our seniors.”
Several councillors remarked during budget discussions about the positive reception received towards a 2011 pilot project of clearing snow along some trails. Trail clearing will continue for $48,000 within the budget.
Policing and crime prevention were also forefront on the minds of civic leaders. The RCMP’s member fee agreement with the city, which pays for about 128 officers, rose by $617,000.
A funding request of just over $92,500 was approved to pay for a provincial government shortfall of three Mounties.
The RCMP requested a number of new positions — two community peace officers, a criminal analyst position, a court liaison officer position, video capture technician/training and development facilitator, and four RCMP officers (three school resource officers, and one additional officer dedicated to the Mental Health project). The position of criminal analyst, which will identify crime trends to help police have a better co-ordinated response, was approved, but the remaining positions were not.
However, those positions could still be approved through the new Safety Charter.
The charter, or workplan, had two budget components. Council approved $110,000 to implement this charter, money which will come from reserves. Plus, council approved $200,000, which is tax-supported. Originally, it was set at $300,000.
The Safety Charter’s key strategies include implementing recommendations from last years’s extensive policing study, as well the development of a Social Master Plan, a mental health pilot project through the RCMP and Red Deer Primary Care Network, a Red Deer drug strategy and a Downtown Community Development project.
In total, council approved six charters, focused on a wide range of endeavors including a bike lane pilot project under the movement charter. The total amount of the charters came in at $600,000 and includes the tax-supported $200,000 safety charter. The remaining $400,000 would be considered one-time funding, so they would come from reserves.
Coun. Cindy Jefferies said she’s glad this charter work is being done.
“I think it will continue the work and direction that council laid out in our strategic plan (for 2012-14),” said Jefferies. “This is great going forward. I think we’ve achieved great balance in this budget. While the economy rises and falls, the demand for city services don’t rise and fall with those things. Even if the economy falls, the demand for those services still exist.”
Jefferies figures the city is in a good position, even if the economy doesn’t pick up further.
Coun. Paul Harris was disappointed because he had asked for an additional $10,000 for the fee-for-service fund that helps out the arts community. He said this annual fund of about $140,000 helps out arts programs. But it hasn’t been topped up for many years.
“Our population has grown dramatically and we have new theatre companies and new facilities,” Harris said. “Those small amount of dollars are being stretched out.”
On Friday, council made these decisions:
l Transit fleet adjustment of $475,000 was approved. This includes projected fuel rate increases, higher replacement costs and increased maintenance. Red Deer Transit will be able to continue to operate the fleet to maintain current levels of service.
l As city manager Craig Curtis recommended, a budgetary item for “community engagement and relationship building” was not approved.
l Parks growth request for additional funding $200,000 for 2012 was turned down.
It represents the transfer of landscapes and amenity responsibilities from developers and construction projects to the Parks section. In absorbing some of the new service areas within the existing operations budget, the Parks Section will be moderately reducing service levels across the community. The funding request was to maintain consistent but reduced service levels across the community, but still maintain a high quality of parks provision. Coun. Cindy Jefferies said she can support this for a year, with redeployment of resources. She’s had some concerns from residents about thistles in patches. Curtis said he’s recommended three parks increases in past four years, so this is a one-year holiday. Wyntjes said she’s relieved to hear that this could come back at a later date, if there are concerns. By adding dollars all the time, it doesn’t create efficiencies, said Veer. Coun. Chris Stephan was opposed.
l Council increased the fee-for-service agreement to the Waskasoo Environmental Education Society, which looks after Kerry Wood Nature Centre and Fort Normandeau. The society had hoped to see an additional $63,682 to help bump up salaries, as well as for other costs. Curtis had recommended reducing that request by $43,682, which would have given the society an additional $20,000 only. Coun. Lynne Mulder asked that the request go up by $10,000, so that the society gets $30,000. This was approved. Jefferies wanted the request to go up by $15,000, which would have given the society $35,000. Harris said the group is doing great work and if it was his way, he’d see the society supported to the full amount requested. Veer said she hopes that a consistent approach can be developed to deal with these kinds of agreements.