Editorial: Put police, fire first in budget

When it comes time to create a city budget, protective services deserve to budge to the front of the line.

When it comes time to create a city budget, protective services deserve to budge to the front of the line.

One of the first things the newly elected Nanaimo city council needs to do in the new year is examine its budget allotments for policing and firefighting.

There are countless budgetary wants and needs in a municipality of 83,000 people, but protective services must be the priority. Nothing is more important than the safety of citizens.

The RCMP plans to bend the city’s ear next month with a proposal that includes additional human resources. The local Mounties came before council a year ago with the same sort of request, which wasn’t granted at the time. Nanaimo Fire-Rescue is also working on a plan that could include new expenses.

Mayor Bill McKay has said he does not wish to see any property tax increase, and has suggested that if taxes do go up, it shouldn’t be because of new budget items. That’s a reasonable starting point; however, the city must take care not to oversimplify the budget process. Each line item should be judged only its individual merit and also by how it relates to other line items.

Certainly the city should listen closely to the RCMP superintendent and the fire chief and consider their proposals, even if it means new expenditures. Crime is decreasing, but police officers’ social outreach is tied to city priorities such as downtown revitalization.

Protective services shouldn’t have carte blanche to charge whatever they want, and we should expect value, for example, re-examining our 911 operations for which we pay more than market value.

There are many worthy city programs and services that help to create the quality of life we enjoy. Hopefully we can maintain and improve them and keep costs in check.

First, let’s make sure Nanaimo is safe and sound. Then we can build a budget around that.