Red Deer city council took aim at a long-held priority — crime prevention — with the creation of a new protective services division.
The move brings together police, fire, ambulance, security, emergency management and crime prevention into one organization. It is expected to boost efficiency and give council a bigger say in setting local priorities.
The organizational changes unanimously approved by council during Thursday budget discussions are a pared-down version of the original concept, which would have seen four new positions added and cost $412,000 over two years.
By eliminating a director position and shifting staff, council was able to cut $230,000 from that estimate over two years. With that cut and others the proposed tax rate increase was at 1.75 per cent.
One new position will be added, a mid-level position focused on advocacy and intergovernmental relations.
Even with the addition, the city will have fewer staff this year than last as vacancies weren’t filled and other measures.
Mayor Tara Veer said public safety has been a clear priority of residents. However responsibility for that was spread through several departments at city hall.
“There’s been a lot of good work done over the years. But in some cases the left hand and the right hand haven’t been integrated in terms of public safety.”
The old system worked well in a smaller city that wasn’t facing today’s socio-economic challenges and the crime it has produced, she said.
“What has become very clear is we need to not just take issues as they arise but we need to get ahead of them. In order for us to do that we needed a protective services division so we can elevate the priority in terms of public safety.”
Coun. Paul Harris called the restructuring the “best decision of the entire budget.”
Harris said the move pulls all of the pieces involved in crime prevention together and he expects it will give council more influence in how to tackle the issue.
“I think this will move the needle,” he said.
Coun. Buck Buchanan, a former RCMP officer, said “it was absolutely the right thing to do.”