Red Deer city council starts debate on toughest budget in more than a decade

‘Scalpel not axe’ used to achieve the $370-million proposed 2019 operating budget, says city manager

Policing and community safety initiatives are the largest investments in the City of Red Deer’s proposed $370-million operating budget for 2019.

As two weeks of expected deliberations began Tuesday, city manager Craig Curtis warned council that administration had been trimming with “a scalpel rather than an axe,” as managers grappled to achieve council’s objective of a tax increase of no more than 2.5 per cent.

While community members expect the city to maintain municipal services, he said revenues are down from the province, as well as from local recreation, transit and construction fees in this slow economy.

Curtis, who is retiring in the spring after his 43rd municipal budget, called this the toughest in the 11 years he’s been back with the City of Red Deer — only surpassed in difficulty by some of the inflationary budgets of the 1980s.

Of the $3.3 million of suggested new spending is about $2.6 million to address community safety, which is the public’s No. 1 priority, said Curtis.

Council will debate putting about $1.3 million toward the 2018-19 and 2020 policing plans. (This would pay half the cost of the 10 new officers hired in 2018, as well as put money aside this year for the up to five additional police officers that administration feels will be needed in 2020.)

As well, councillors will discuss giving $158,000 to the new Child Advocacy Centre, adding an extra $200,000 toward cleaning up needle debris and rough sleeper camps in parks (in addition to $200,000 previously approved), putting $160,000 toward the Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre, and adding $124,000 to the Community Safety Strategy.

Other areas of proposed spending include a new plan to end homelessness, a poverty reduction strategy, an integrated housing framework for low-income people and seniors, and an environmental master plan upgrade. As well, council is advised to fund a study to determine which land the city should next be annexing from the County of Red Deer to facilitate future growth.

Curtis said the city’s stormwater infrastructure needs upgrades, as well as the operation of the newly upgraded and expanded water and wastewater treatment plants. There are suggested funds in the budget for the continued tree planting and replacement following a destructive 2017 windstorm.

Recognizing that fundraising by arts and culture groups has been tough in this economy, and amid considerable competition from the 2019 Canada Winter Games, the proposed budget includes adding 33 per cent more funds to an existing $400,000 municipal pot that gives annual grants to qualifying arts and culture groups.

The budget also recommends lifting the $30,000 funding cap for each arts grant.

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