More police hires in City of Red Deer’s proposed $370-million 2019 operating budget

Council starts budget talks in January

A proposed $370-million operating budget that’s tough on crime, but also gives cultural groups a hand in this fiscally difficult time, will be discussed by Red Deer city council in January.

City manager Craig Curtis said the suggested budget gives the city what it needs — although not everything it wants.

“The reality is the economy continues to recover more slowly than anticipated,” he said.

There’s continued uncertainty around future levels of provincial funding, while local construction starts are lower than expected, impacting city revenues.

“Recognizing this, we are recommending a budget that respects council’s direction (and) vision for the community” — while also toeing the imposed debt limit and a council-imposed 2.5 per cent tax increase.

There will be some service level reductions recommended, as well as fee increases. But Craig said these are necessary if council wants to stick to approving a modest tax increase.

Of the 2.5 per cent tax hike that council is aiming for, only 1.5 per cent would go toward the actual operating budget, while the other one per cent will be put into a savings account for the next capital budget.

Keeping funding levels the same as they are now would require a 3.4 per cent tax hike, he explained, while funding everything that various department wish for would increase taxes by a whopping 12.39 per cent — hardly doable.

Most of the recommended spending in the proposed budget is on law enforcement and public safety items. Half of the cost of the new 10 police officers hired in 2018 falls within the 2019 operating budget (spending over two years was approved in 2018).

As well, Curtis is recommending the city put some money aside in 2019 for the up to five additional police officers that administration feels will be needed in 2020.

Because there’s always a six- to nine-month lag between when new RCMP officers are hired and when they actually arrive to start working in Red Deer, Curtis believes it’s wise to be proactive in hiring and funding them half a year ahead of time.

More spending is also recommended in hiring a police officer to work in the new Central Alberta Children’s Advocacy Centre. The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre and the Community Safety Strategy would get more dollars, as would the continued cleanup of rough sleeper camps and referrals of homeless people to social agencies.

The proposed operating budget invests the largest allotment of money into crime prevention and law enforcement. Mayor Tara Veer said crime and public safety are still the public’s main priorities, and so they will be top of mind of council when considering spending priorities.

Since local cultural and recreational opportunities are just a little further down the list for many local residents, administration is proposing adding 33 per cent more funds to an existing $400,000 municipal pot that gives annual grants to qualifying arts and culture groups.

The tough local economy and competition for fundraising for Canada Winter Games-related projects has made it hard for many local arts and culture groups to find sponsorships and remain sustainable, said Curtis.

He suggests this commitment be made for two years. He also recommends lifting the $30,000 funding cap for each arts grant.

Among the other spending recommendations:

* a study to determine which land the city should next be annexing from Red Deer County to facilitate future growth;

* other studies, including a new plan to end homelessness, a poverty reduction strategy, an integrated housing framework for low-income people and seniors, an environmental master plan upgrade, etc.;

* needed upgrades of the city’s stormwater infrastructure;

* the phasing in of the new three-cart waste collection system;

* operation of the newly upgraded and expanded water and waste water treatment plants;

* continued tree planting and replacement following the 2017 windstorm.

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