Look at police plan first

It’s always a good idea to carefully consider all aspects of the City of Red Deer’s operating budget.

It’s always a good idea to carefully consider all aspects of the City of Red Deer’s operating budget.

But just how often should major changes to the way the city offers services be reconsidered, especially when it cost thousands of dollars to review?

The cost to run the city is big. The current $272-million operating budget for 2012 is testimony to that. And as we head into the new year, and the 2013 budget discussions, taxpayers will likely see both a higher operating budget and increased taxes.

So when we talk about $150,000 as a budget item, it’s just chump change, right?

That’s the amount the city spent on consultants to prepare the Crime Prevention and Policing Review, which was presented last year to city council.

The report stated that it was less costly for the city to retain the services of the RCMP than if it were to move to a municipal police force.

In a 7-2 vote in October 2011, city council decided to maintain the status quo with the RCMP.

The cost to start up a municipal force was estimated at between $7 million and $10 million. In addition, citizens favoured the RCMP.

Councillor Paul Harris was one of the seven members who voted to see the RCMP continue to serve Red Deer.

That was then.

Now Harris isn’t so sure.

At the last meeting of council he gave notice of a motion calling for another review of the current policing service delivery model to “verify that the model is appropriate, cost effective, and represents the best service for tax dollars available.”

“I am having second thoughts,” Harris told the Advocate, in part because the process of establishing service delivery standards has been too slow for the councillor.

Those standards would help the council determine whether its getting a good bang for its buck.

This, coupled with an indication from local top cop Supt. Warren Dosko that he will be asking for a significant increase to the 2013 policing budget, has Harris worried.

But it is unreasonable that council should even consider another policing review just a year after it already made this big decision. It costs money to review, yes.

But what message does it send every time we are faced with the idea of increased policing costs to review what police force we should have? Such decisions are big ones.

Maybe the Harris motion is just posturing and politicking as council moves toward operating budget discussions.

The RCMP and Emergency Services budgets combined eat up about 30 per cent of the city’s operating budget, split almost evenly.

It’s right for Harris to be concerned that the RCMP is looking for an increase in funding, which in fact could translate into a tax increase.

But rather than looking for another too-soon policing review, Harris would do better by talking with other members of council about his concerns, listening to the pitch the RCMP will make in budget discussions, listening to his constituents, and then voting accordingly.

For his part, Dosko is offering perhaps a realistic approach to increasing policing costs.

He suggests looking at innovative ways to deal with the non-violent crimes so RCMP resources “aren’t being gobbled up by non-violent crime when they need to be put in the violent crime world.”

The best way to approach policing costs is not to look at who is providing the service, but rather where to focus the RCMP resources we have.

Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached by phone at 403-314-4332 or email at barr@bprda.wpengine.com.

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