$1M may be found, but there are risks
The city may have found a way to move $1 million in its budget.
Deciding if changing the way it budgets for policing services and then, if they proceed, determining where the money will go will be the subject of a special council meeting Feb. 25.
Coun. Cameron Stolz explained that there has been a great degree of risk management on the part of the city when setting the budget for the police services contract. The policing contract is negotiated at the federal and provincial level, however the city does provide support services to the RCMP, a budget it has more control over.
In 2012 the city contracted for 128 members but due to a variety of reasons, from illness to maternity leave, received the services of 121 members leading to a budget surplus of more than $2 million.
Stolz also took a look at historical numbers, comparing the budgeted amount to the actual cost of policing from 2008 to 2012.
Roughly the city has averaged a surplus of $900,000 per year over that five-year period.
Stolz said he wanted to compliment the staff on their risk management plan.
“There is no chance we are going to get caught with our pants down,” he said.
The surplus goes into a general operating surplus fund, Kris Dalio, the city’s manager of financial planning, explained.
This year’s policing services budget increased by $100,000.
Stolz said he thought it was time to be a little less ultra-conservative.
“What if we only budget $1 million over last year’s actual?” he asked. “If we did that it would leave us $1.2 million to direct towards other things.”
Stolz said perhaps the money could be split into two funds, one adding to the road rehabilitation fund and the other half to provide a budget for the new mayor’s task force on crime reduction.
“But I want to stress we continue police services at the same level. This is not about reducing the number of members or services to the citizens,” he said.
He added he sees little downside to the plan, pointing out there is an operating surplus fund as well as a further $1 million risk management bumper that can be drawn from for police services if needed.
Mayor Shari Green said Supt. Eric Stubbs needed to be included in any conversation involving the city moving towards budgeting less for police services, and added she understood there would be no reduction in either services or members, but wanted to ensure the public understood that.
“We want to ensure the RCMP have as many tools as they need,” Coun. Brian Skakun said, agreeing that Stubbs needs to be part of the conversation.
“It’s not an attack on the level of service. It’s not a claw-back,” Coun. Dave Wilbur agreed.
Rather, he said, it’s about tightening the risk management cushion.
Coun. Garth Frizzell pointed out that a certain percentage of the city budget must be held in an accumulated surplus account. He suggested more information on that should also be brought back for council’s consideration as well. Cautious agreement came from all of council to further explore the idea, however there were several suggestions as to what the money would be spent on if council proceeded.
Coun. Albert Koehler said he felt the expected tax hike was too high and he hoped the $1 million would go toward lowering taxes.
“We should think about the taxpayers,” Koehler said, adding he campaigned on low taxes and would like to see no tax raises above the rate of inflation.
“I would say how much can we allot to tax reduction,” he said.
“I think there’s merit in the discussion,” Coun. Murry Krause said. “But we have to ensure the savings are there.”
Coun. Lyn Hall said it boils down to three items. The first is a conversation that includes the RCMP. The second is any unintended outcomes are stopped, and lastly deciding where the money will go.