Red Deer residents are now facing a 4.29 per cent property tax increase following city council’s decision to add 18 positions to the police force.
After nearly four hours of debate on Thursday, council agreed to bring eight constables, six municipal employees and four supervisors on board.
In the next three months, a first batch of four RCMP officers and two municipal staffers will be hired while the remaining 12 will be hired in the fourth quarter subject to the police service standards review.
The changes add an extra $888,375 to the 2013 operating budget and another $1.25 million to the 2014 budget.
Coun. Buck Buchanan, a retired police officer, brought the motion to the table saying there is a significant need in the city to add more “boots on the streets” or front line officers because the city’s RCMP officers have larger case loads compared to the provincial average.
City administration presented council with three options for this year’s operating budget –– approving four RCMP officers and two municipal support staff immediately or wait until the police review, and the option of hiring four constables, four supervisors and four municipal employees subject to the review.
While the nine-person council supported adding more RCMP officers, Coun. Paul Harris was the sole councillor who did not support hiring right now.
Harris said he did not feel comfortable floating more dollars to policing until the service level review is completed. The highly anticipated review is expected to be finished by March.
“What is likely going to happen is the service standards are going to arrive before the police anyway,” said Harris, noting he is on the record with the public with his reasoning. “What we agreed to today was in good faith and I am okay with that. The first four officers will come and they will be put to work with core duties. If we have those standards in place we will exactly know what that is. Otherwise things will just progress as they have. In the review, we will be able to clearly define that and we can make some adjustments.”
Both Councillors Dianne Wyntjes and Lynne Mulder said putting more dollars into policing is a good investment of the city’s tax dollars and they believe the community would agree. Wyntjes said the community must not overlook the importance of exploring the causes of crime.
“I feel we are listening to our public,” said Mulder. “We don’t have an option not to reach a conclusion on the (level of) service. If they put us in those jails in some of those cells until we come out with a solution then that’s what we will do. But I don’t think that’s an option to mess around… I think we came a long way today. I think the public will be pleased. I think the tax increase is minimal.”
Supt. Warren Dosko said the community will see a police organization that will be able to be in a better position to respond to calls for service for minor and serious crimes as a result of the boost.
The Red Deer City RCMP detachment currently has 132 officers and the additions will bring the total to 144 officers.
“When we go through our service level review with the city, we will be making determinations of the type of work we need going forward and what is the right mix of RCMP officers to municipal employees or bylaw officers or community peace officers,” said Dosko.
Dosko said one of the big challenges is having the police officers involved in work that isn’t police officer oriented. Dosko said it is not about reducing service but ensuring it’s a cost effective service.
In March the Alberta Law Enforcement Team (ALERT), focusing on organized crime in Central Alberta, is expected to be fully operational with six municipal RCMP officers, seven provincial RCMP officers, support staff and a crime analyst in Red Deer. This will bring an additional 33 positions (officers and support staff) working in policing in the region.
“We are going to see a huge presence and a huge effort in the enforcement of organized and serious crime,” said Dosko.
During the debate councillors raised concerns about the unexpected $1.16 million pay increase in the RCMP contract and the impact on future budgets.
City manager Craig Curtis said even if council had known the figure it would not have likely changed the bottom line significantly.
“It’s worrisome and it has escalated this year,” said Wyntjes. “Who knows what it means in the future.”
Harris said it is important to note the RCMP costs across the country are increasing while the national crime rate is declining.
“This budget is primarily about policing,” said Coun. Chris Stephan. “What I am hearing from the community is that we have to address some of our policing concerns. I fully understand this is the cost of doing business. As long as we have the RCMP, we can’t really opt out.”
Stephan voted against the contract increase line item because he said it takes away from the number of officers the city could hire and what the community really needs.
Council did not support city administration’s recommendation of one-time funding of $300,000 to address the year-to-year fluctuations in revenue generated from photo radar guns. The funding was requested to cover an error in the estimate of revenue from photo radar over the last couple of years. Administration had recommended $300,000 in one-time funding and $300,000 in on-going funding. Council decided to grant the on-going funding but will review the one-time funding at the mid-year budget review in August.
The municipal operating budget was projected to involve a 3.91 property tax increase prior to Thursday, the fourth day of council budget discussions. The operating budget is expected to be adopted on Friday.