Proposed budget ‘tighter than last year’

The City of Red Deer’s draft 2012 municipal operating budget suggests spending more on snow removal and policing services, but cutting back on recreational facility and transit hours.

The City of Red Deer’s draft 2012 municipal operating budget suggests spending more on snow removal and policing services, but cutting back on recreational facility and transit hours.

On Tuesday, city council began reviewing the administration-recommended budget that projects an average property tax increase of 4.55 per cent. The budget is so far set at nearly $269.8 million — up slightly from the 2011 budget of $269.2 million.

Budget talks continue for the next couple of weeks. The public is invited to attend the sessions in City Hall council chambers.

If council approves the budget without making any changes, taxes on an average home assessed at $275,000 would rise $72, to $1,656 in 2012 compared to $1,584 in 2011.

Mayor Morris Flewwelling said this operating budget is even tighter than last year.

“We’ve tried to maintain service levels — at least service levels that affect people directly,” said Flewwelling. “There’s no ornamentation. Nothing is going to be fancy.”

Administration has suggested spending an additional $572,000 on snow and ice control to allow for one more residential snow plowing. The 2012 capital budget of $94.8 million was approved in late November and included $980,000 for snow removal equipment. Administration earlier estimated $2 million on equipment, but equipment costs came in cheaper, said city manager Craig Curtis.

Also recommended is topping up the reserve for snow removal by $200,000.

“We’ve targeted some of that snow removal budget, not at more streets and roads, but on the trails and the bus stops,” said Flewwelling. “We’re keeping those sidewalk connections clear.”

As well, administration is requesting an increase of just over $617,000 to pay for a higher RCMP contract.

A further $46,500 is being sought for a municipal employee who would do crime analysis. This person would identify emerging crime trends and develop strategies and plans.

In total, the base operating budget of the RCMP is set at $25.19 million and, after expenses as well as projected revenues of $6.9 million, the bottom line is just over $17.5 million.

Plus, administration recommends adding $90,000 to address a provincial funding shortfall of three RCMP positions. In total, the city is looking at nearly $1.4 million in extra policing costs.

One new initiative within the 2012 policing budget includes one-time spending of $110,000 to implement a Safety Charter. Plus, there would be $300,000 spent on various endeavours within this charter — an amount that would carry over each year.

The idea of a Safety Charter arises from the extensive policing study that wrapped up last year.

“We’re putting more money into crime and policing, but we’re not saying exactly what we’re doing,” said Flewwelling. “As we work through the Safety Charter, we’ll determine how that money is going to be spent. Is that going to be spent on more police officers or on crime prevention?”

The $300,000 will be allocated sometime after the operating budget is approved, perhaps March or April, said Curtis.

“The $110,000 will be used towards developing initiatives around crime prevention and moving in a new direction,” he added.

Curtis said the city continues to grapple with the impacts of a global economic downturn and lower revenues as a result.

“This was a difficult budget and the cost savings put forward to council help us adjust in these difficult times,” said Curtis.

Some of the potential cuts include cancelling the 2012 municipal census, reducing Red Deer transit service after 10:45 p.m., reducing operating hours at some recreational centres during holiday periods, and not filling some vacant city jobs.

The City of Red Deer would employ 1,296 individuals with this draft operating budget — nine less than 2011. Primarily this was done through not filling vacant jobs, as well as through attrition.

“Overall, the departments requested 13 new positions,” said Curtis, adding very few are being recommended for council’s approval.

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