Council approved the first two readings of the 2019 Financial Plan Tuesday at city hall which comes with a 3.43 per cent tax increase this year.
A public information meeting on the budget is set for Jan. 22.
The emphasis was on beefing up policing services, with six new RCMP to be hired, and two support positions, along with increased bylaw personnel and added resources for cleaning up the downtown.
“I’m encouraged we are going in the right direction,” Mayor Ken Popove said.
Finance director Glen Savard presented the budget details in council chambers, pointing out that it is a popular misconception to assume that an increase in property assessments will automatically mean an increased tax bill.
“This is not the case,” Savard said.
In terms of community engagement, council provided two survey opportunities for citizens to offer up their spending priorities, and results were “fairly consistent” with previous surveys, where a large number of respondents said increased policing services, and road rehab were high priorities.
In fact, policing, which accounts for 32 per cent of the budget, was the only service where residents said they’d like to see a higher spending allocation from city coffers.
The road rehab line item is at $3.3 million.
Coun. Jeff Shields asked about the downtown cleanups completed by city operations crews.
“What are the costs now, and what is the increase we can expect?” he asked, in the wake of increased concern expressed by the public about the state of garbage-strewn city streets.
Operations director Glen MacPherson responded that the cleanup efforts, all in with graffiti removal included typically would cost in excess of $250,000 per year. The expected increase for 2019 was another $125,000, to respond to street cleaning requests and homeless garbage removal.
Coun. Jason Lum said that while he didn’t agree with that large amount of money being required to address social issues and crime, but he did think overall it was money well spent.
“I’m glad the public is taking the opportunity to weigh in,” he said.
Coun. Chris Kloot said he was encouraged to see the continued budget support for more RCMP, and looks forward to hearing more resident input on Jan. 22.