Budget wrangling nets more police personnel and bike lanes for Chilliwack
Public safety and bike lanes were two spending priorities that came out on top after council finished with extensive budget wrangling.
In the end of Tuesday's council meeting, the proposed tax increase of 1.89 per cent remained unchanged — but some of the specific funding priorities were switched up.
Chilliwack council paused the budget approval process last month to see if it could incorporate some feedback from the public. It was supposed to vote on the 2016 budget and financial plan Feb. 16, after holding a public information meeting, and listening to the views of the public.
Concerns expressed by citizens included the need to add RCMP personnel, dedicated bike lanes, improved trails, as well as heritage protection, and revitalization of the Hope Slough.
In the end, council rescinded third reading of the budget and financial plan bylaw as it stood, and amended it to reflect a renewed emphasis in certain areas.
On top of the two new RCMP officers already accounted for, there were will be two information officers funded, with an additional $80,000.
Another $100,000 is going toward the bike lane program, while public works will be reduced by $65,000, earmarked for pump station inspection and ditch maintenance. Road resurfacing down by $115,000 to compensate for the extra RCMP and bike lane additions.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz said it was good to see so many citizens involved in the engagement process, even the 92 who tried the new online engagement tool.
She said council was talking to staff about moving up the budget consultation opportunity to the fall. She noted they had committed $100,000 to a preliminary study on restoring the Hope Slough, which could cost up to $12 million for the "full meal deal," which meant full restoration.
On the subject of public safety and adding police officers, she reminded everyone that council can't dictate to RCMP how their resources are deployed but they could discuss the issues.
The wrangling session was an exercise in finances and budgeting but it was also a nod to the democratic process at the council level.
The public is seeing "a small sliver" into the annual "arm wrestling" that goes on during budget time, said Coun. Jason Lum.
"One of the things through the process that was highlighted for me was that the public definitely wants to be, and will be part of process."