Less money for gauging efficiency and public opinion and more funds for local crime prevention and sports programs were among Red Deer city council’s budgetary decisions on Friday.
While most councillors spoke about the importance of knowing how community members feel about impactful projects such as the homeless shelter and addictions treatment centre, some money proposed for public involvement initiatives was deferred or cancelled.
This includes $100,000 for benchmarking programs — funds meant for 2023 that will now be pushed back to 2024.
As well, a new public participation co-ordinator position will be cancelled for a total budget savings of $300,000 over the next two years. Coun Victor Doerksen summarized the majority sentiment by suggesting this work be done in-house instead.
Councillors Dianne Wyntjes and Vesna Higham successfully lobbied for council to give direct funding to the Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre and to increase the overall dollar amount of grants available to sports groups.
Wyntjes believes it’s vital to ensure the crime prevention centre survives a transitionary time. The centre educates the public on how to make properties less attractive targets for criminals and gives other tips used to receive baseline funding from the city, but now it and other groups have to submit applications for competitive funding.
Higham agreed with Wyntjes that it’s important that the agency, which helped reduce crime in Red Deer, not “wither on the vine” before it can become more self-supporting under the city’s new competitive funding model.
Most councillors agreed to help the centre in the shorter term with $75,000 in one-time funding in each of 2023 and 2024.
Local sports groups will see the overall funding pool they can apply for increase by $100,000 for 2023 and $50,000 in 2024. Higham said there must be enough support for groups, such as the Red Deer Sports Council — a legacy from the 2019 Canada Winter Games which is aiming to bring more major sporting events to the city.
While this item received council’s approval, Doerksen expressed concern that council seems to be returning to singling out funding for certain groups, despite deciding a couple of years ago to go to the purely competitive model of awarding grants to non-profits.
Coun. Cindy Jefferies wanted Red Deer transit officials to look at increasing service to major employers, such as Olymel and the malls, and increasing Sunday Service.
But the city’s community development general-manager, Sarah Tittemore, said Red Deer Transit has a finite amount of money, so adding additional routes would mean losing others. Since ridership is only at 55 per cent of pre-COVID levels, Tittemore added the department would need its revenues restored to 2019 levels (adding another $1 million), before the department could comfortably look into exploring route additions.
Jefferies hopes bus ridership improves in 2023, saying it’s a more affordable, environmental mode of transport. Meanwhile, members of council are encouraged transit officials are already speaking with major employers about their workers’ needs.
Mayor Ken Johnston told councillors that if all nine took just one return bus trip a week, this would boost transit ridership by more than 4,300 trips a year.
“I pledge to you that in 2023, you are going to see the mayor on the bus,” said Johnston.