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Policing costs adding up in City of Nanaimo’s budgeting process

Potential tax increase now at about 4.1%, councillors still deciding on numerous budget line items
Policing costs are putting upward pressure on property taxes, and city councillors are considering spending on more RCMP officers and civilian staff members. (News Bulletin file photo)

The City of Nanaimo’s projected property tax increase has gone up a little as the budgeting process continues.

At a finance and audit meeting Wednesday, Nov. 10, city staff and councillors went over line items in the budget and made a series of decisions that have brought the projected tax increase up from 3.4 per cent to about 4.1 per cent.

The increase is almost wholly due to the city receiving more information about federal RCMP contract implications and discovering that an additional $1.16 million will be required in 2022. As well, city wages and benefits are also going up by about $93,000 more than financial staff previously reported. Those added expenses were partly offset by casino revenue coming in at $153,000 more than expected.

City councillors heard business cases for another 10 line items that could further bump up the tax increase. Two more were related to policing: a request to hire four more RCMP bike team members specifically to work downtown, and a request for at least four civilian staff positions to support RCMP. The bike patrol members would add 0.43 per cent to the property tax increase and the other RCMP staff positions would add at least 0.26 per cent.

Supt. Lisa Fletcher, Nanaimo RCMP detachment commander, said she’s worked the bike patrol and said it’s rewarding to see the changes that can come when there is a “dedicated team who know the individuals … within the downtown areas so that we have a consistent approach.”

Asked about possible redeployment of officers, Fletcher said she would commit to keeping new bike patrol officers in that role for at least two years.

“I would like to see what happens if we do an invested project where we can measure it and see the end result and my hope would be that actually shows the true need and the benefit of it,” Fletcher said.

Councillors didn’t commit to the new bike team members, but Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said Nanaimo RCMP is “severely under-resourced” and Mayor Leonard Krog said the decision “speaks to everything that’s important about our downtown and ensuring prosperity for that part of our community and security for our citizens.”

As for the other RCMP staff positions, Fletcher said Nanaimo RCMP officers average more than double the number of case files compared to their counterparts on municipal police forces, and are “way above” the provincial average. She said RCMP members doing administrative work isn’t a cost-effective strategy when municipal staff can do the work better and more efficiently.

The next-most-costly line item discussed at Wednesday’s budget meeting was an aquatics plan that could result in a tax increase of 0.21-0.4 per cent. Parks and recreation director Lynn Wark said the city’s Reimagine Nanaimo strategic planning process has indicated residents want more aquatic services.

“They’d like to see more lessons, more programs, more services at waterfront,” she said. “So that’s what came from the community – in order for us to provide more, we need to right-size our operation right now so that we can actually handle properly what we’re currently offering.”

As an example, she said hiring more lifeguards for pool decks will mean head lifeguards can take on more leadership and mentorship duties.

A handful of other staff positions were discussed, including a manager of financial services and special projects. Jake Rudolph, city chief administrative officer, said the finance department is still rebuilding the staff complement that existed before 2017.

“What I’m observing is a department of managers that are working, at times, a lot of extra hours and doing a lot of management, but it’s harder to do the leadership and the strategic thinking,” he said.

The finance committee made two recommendations that nudged the tax increase down from 4.3 per cent to closer to 4.1 per cent. By hiring a manager for Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s Vancouver Island Emergency Response Academy, the city believes it can generate enough revenue to cover the cost of the position and even bring property taxes down 0.09 per cent. Nanaimo Fire Chief Tim Doyle said the academy has grown to the point at which his department’s relatively small training division can’t keep running it off the side of a desk, or else both the academy and NFR training will suffer.

The finance committee also recommended reducing the city’s snow and ice removal budget from $975,000 to $880,000 to decrease taxes another 0.08 per cent. Councillors Tyler Brown and Ian Thorpe were opposed.

The committee did not get through all the items on its agenda, and will make more budgeting decisions at a meeting Nov. 17. Before that, there is an e-town hall meeting Nov. 15 when members of the public will be invited to ask questions or provide input into the financial planning process.

RELATED: City of Nanaimo begins budgeting with 3.4% tax increase as starting point

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About the Author: Greg Sakaki

I have been in the community newspaper business for two decades, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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