The City of Red Deer will put $300,000 towards the clean-up of drug and rough sleeper camps this year.
The dollar figure was approved on Friday during debate on the 2018 Operating Budget.
City council originally had $200,000 on the table for this year, but through debate amount went to $400,000 before settling in the middle.
There are between 50 and 70 camps in the city at any one time, council heard. The funding will allow The City to clean up between 15 and 20 each week.
“Parks are well-known for being our number one community asset and we are charged with being responsible to clean up and provide safe public spaces," said Lawrence Lee, who proposed the increase to $400,000. “Put resources just like we did with policing to give the best opportunity to move it in a noticeable way. I don’t think it does us justice to do 15 a week. We have to attack it in a way that is proactive.”
Councillor Ken Johnston, who didn’t support Lee’s amendment, said he was unsure if just throwing more money at the problem will solve the overarching issue.
“The solving piece for me is supporting those agencies, those who are on the treatment side, the housing side,” he said. “I would send them the other $200,000 to make a dent. A year from now, I think we’ll find we cleaned up god knows how many camps and we’ll still have a bunch of them.”
It was repeatedly noted by council the camps are a downstream impact of the wider-ranging opioid and housing crises, and thus the Province bears more responsibility than what they are currently taking.
A ‘Point in Time’ homeless count to be conducted this Spring is expected to give The City a better overall picture of just how many rough sleeper camps there are and where they are located.
-- 2019 Canada Winter Games
Council also approved $711,550 over 2018 and 2019 towards final planning and preparation for the 2019 Canada Winter Games.
The amount was originally higher with $45,000 set aside to continue operation of the Ross Street Patio through the winter months and during the Games.
A 6-3 vote got rid of that chunk of cash, but Mayor Tara Veer proposed adding $30,000 back into the pot for the purpose of festival/patio type activities either in City Hall Park or closer to the Games official Celebration Plaza at Central School. Her proposal was approved.
Councillor Frank Wong, who moved to remove the patio, said his reasoning goes beyond costs.
"It’s because of the usage of the parking. There are businesspeople downtown and one told me they can’t wait until the spaces are available for parking,” he said. “It's needed in the fall and winter. Right now when I go home, people are trying to cut into the right lane in anticipation of going towards the river."
The rest of the money, which does not impact the property tax increase, will be spent on staff training, event evaluation, emergency preparedness, stakeholder relationship enhancement, issues management, event and community promotion, economic development, identity promotion, internal and external communications, cultural programming, and venue management.
-- Rec. Centre pool hours
Evening hours at the Recreation Centre pool in downtown Red Deer will soon be reduced.
City council voted unanimously in favour of the change on Friday, realizing close to $25,000 in savings for 2018 in the process.
The pool will close at 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings instead of their current close times of 10 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively. Those times will be in affect from September to May beginning this Fall.
Councillor Dianne Wyntjes said this won't take much away from users as the Dawe and Collicutt are still open at those hours.
"It's always difficult because it can be seen as a reduction in service," she said. "But in any budget, we always have to be innovative and creative to find those savings where we can."
Council heard that the changes will improve cost recovery at the Recreation Centre.
-- LED street light conversion
Council approved more than $550,000 in cost savings for 2018 thanks to a successful LED street light conversion program The City has undertaken.
Power consumption was reduced in 2017 by 11.7 per cent, which is the equivalent of 5.5 million kWh/year.
Greenhouse Gas emissions are also reduced thanks to the conversion by approximately 4,510 tons CO2e.
Mayor Tara Veer made light of the fact that when council originally approved the conversion, it was for environmental purposes.
“We didn’t need that [financial] impetus in order to do the right thing,” she said. “Even though they weren’t initially linked, a program like this should be receiving a return through the carbon tax.”
-- Municipal census
This week, council also opted to move funding originally allotted to conduct a municipal census in 2018, to 2019.
The last municipal census was done in 2016 ,which identified 99,832 residents.
The ensuing federal census showed Red Deer has 100,418 residents.
At 2017 Operating Budget debate, city council cancelled funding for a municipal census to be undertaken last year.
At the end of the first week of 2018 Operating Budget debate, the property tax increase has risen from 2.00 per cent to 2.01 per cent after a slight increase to funding for new police officers.
Debate resumes Monday at 1 p.m.
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