2019 Operating Budget week 1: Big changes coming to transit, tax hike brought down

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
January 11, 2019 - 9:00pm

Week one of debate on the 2019 Operating Budget is now complete at Red Deer City Hall.

In total, city council has found a way to decrease the proposed budget by just over $224,000, thus bringing the property tax increase from 2.50 to 2.33 per cent.

A number of key items approved (and not approved) by council are broken down below:

POLICING

-$730,000 for three new RCMP members and two municipal support positions
-One of the three new members will be assigned to work with the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre
-One of these officers will be available to start work in Oct. 2019; and the others will begin early 2020
-This is made possible by allocating the money now, but not spending it until 2020

“Just from a population growth perspective, it makes sense to keep planning ahead,” said Paul Goranson, Director of Protective Services. “For the demands that are put on the police force, it’s really a bit of a proactive approach.”

Goranson says the lower number this year has no correlation to the ongoing review of Red Deer’s policing structure as The City determines the feasibility of potentially switching to a municipal force.

Last year, council approved 10 new officers, all of whom have since been hired.

In the 2018 citizen satisfaction survey, 43 per cent of respondents cited crime and safety as their top local priority.

TRANSIT

a) Holiday frequency reduced from every 30 minutes to every 60 minutes, resulting in a savings of $129,000
-Holiday ridership makes up one per cent of overall annual use
-Current ridership equates to seven passengers per half hour
-This change will take effect May 1, 2019

b) Sunday frequency reduced from every 30 minutes to every 60 minutes, resulting in a savings of $514,000
-Sunday ridership makes up 4.5 per cent of overall annual use
-Current ridership equates to six passengers per half hour
-This change will take effect May 1, 2019

“In terms of usage, we had a lot of input from the community that they don’t like to see empty buses, and at the same time, we have to look at mobility across the community for those who need that mobility,” Curtis explained. “Transit is sometimes the only option, and with the ridership statistics that we now have through our new SWIT (System Wide Intelligent Transit) system, we were able to identify that we should move to a one hour schedule on holidays and Sundays. Some communities don’t have any transit on Sundays and holidays.”

One idea suggested by council was to look at the feasibility of bringing back the Dial-A-Bus service, which hasn’t been around for at least a decade, according to Transit Manager George Penny.

A current review of the transit system is also looking at a mobility plan which would replace the Sorensen Station-focused hub and spoke system with a more linear north to south system that has hubs at both ends.

Penny agrees you could call it a major revamp.

“We’re looking at a three year forecast, so we’ll do the RFP, we’ll do some consultation with the public and that’s important. Then we’ll move forward with the design of all the routes and then upgrades to the vehicles and bus stops. It just makes sense to move up and down that corridor,” Penny says.

“There will be bigger shelters and stations, and an experience for people where it’ll give them the time of the next arrival and departure, it will be heated and accessible. It won’t be a Sorensen Station per se, but a bigger shelter where the regional buses can come in and drop off, and then people can come into town rather than the buses coming all the way in.”

RECREATION

a) Reduction of hours at the G.H. Dawe Centre and the Collicutt Centre which will both begin closing at 9 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.; this change will result in a savings of just under $113,000

b) Rental rates will increase by three per cent, as they did in 2018. They remained flat in 2017. This will result in increased revenue of over $63,000.

c) Reducing City staff discounts at recreation facilities from 40 to 20 per cent; council did not approve this change, thus increasing the budget by $20,000. This benefit has been in place since 2009.

“User-ship (at facilities) has not dropped off, but revenue has. That trend has been going since 2016 and the recession,” said City Manager Craig Curtis. “And we’re still very low on rental rates by comparison with our immediate neighbours and certainly with other mid-sized cities.”

ROUGH SLEEPER CAMPS

-$200,000 for the clean-up of rough sleeper camps
-In the 2018 Operating Budget, council allocated $400,000 for this initiative

“It’s important to note this is a temporary band-aid solution until we receive the response we need as a community from the provincial government and there’s a full exercise of leadership in giving us the infrastructure we need for those social and health facilities,” said Mayor Tara Veer.

“I don’t think the public ever looks favourably upon short-term band-aid solutions, but it is the position that The City is in because of the lack of provincial funding on that issue. Our approach is a one-more-year approach and we hope we see the long-term solution come to fruition this year by the province adequately funding the shelter and health supports that are necessary.”

OTHER

i) $20,000 for ongoing work done by the Welcoming and Inclusive Communities Network, which started in 2016 and has representatives from more than 40 community organizations

ii) $20,000 for The City to continue implementing its Common Ground Protocol which it signed in 2017 alongside the Urban Aboriginal Voices Society

iii) $235,000 for 2019 operations at the old Central Elementary School, which was renovated for the purpose of relocating The City’s Culture department
-In 2017, council approved a plan to repurpose the former school for the development of a celebration plaza for use during the 2019 Canada Winter Games
-The Culture section of the Recreation, Parks and Culture department will begin moving into this location in July 2019

iv) $250,000 contribution towards co-hosting the 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships

v) $8,000 to host the second ‘New Red Deerian Welcome Event’
-This event was first held in 2017 and aligns with The City’s priority for diversity and inclusion
-In 2017, the event was attended by close to 250 people, including refugees, immigrants and all other newcomers
-The event was initially put on with assistance from Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE), Catholic Social Services, and Central Alberta Immigrant Women’s Association

Next week, council will look at utility and water/wastewater rates, as well as requests from community agencies for funding.

Operating Budget debate resumes Monday, Jan. 14 at 12 p.m. inside Red Deer City Hall council chambers. It can also be streamed online at RedDeer.ca.

Heron at Medicine River Wildlife Centre gets fresh start for new year

Join the Discussion

We are happy to provide a forum for commenting and discussion. Please respect and abide by the house rules: Keep it clean, keep it civil, keep it truthful, stay on topic, be responsible, share your knowledge, and please suggest removal of comments that violate these standards. See full commenting rules.