KELOWNA - Kelowna city councillors are facing a hard choice in the 2016 budget — hire all six police officers recommended by formula, or hire just three for now even though street crime has increased over the past year.
Councillors are already facing a 4.11 per cent increase on the 2016 budget, of which 1.97 per cent is dedicated to the expansion of police services, including financing the construction of a new detachment. Part of that total is the hiring of three more full-time officers in 2016.
But to meet the recommendation made by population based formula — one officer per 681 residents — the city needs six more RCMP officers. Staff have cut the recommendation down the middle, designating the second three officers as a lower priority budget item.
However, bringing a budget item up to a top priority requires a motion and a majority vote from councillors, and some are questioning the need when the budget increase is already substantial.
“I want clarity on the first three officers; are they going to be boots on the ground?” Coun. Mohini Singh asks. “People are looking for police presence, not more corporals or sergeants.”
Corporate services director Rob Mayne, in charge of the city’s bylaw division, said recently his officers have seen a doubling of the number of transient camps they have had to deal with jump to 200 from around 100 through to September of this year.
Singh counts herself a strong supporter of the RCMP, but would also like to hear how the additional officers will affect current officer caseloads, once the highest in the province and one of the reasons the city has just finished the supplemental hiring of 21 officers.
“I would like clarity on the caseloads, like are all caseloads created equal and where are we at now,” Singh adds. “I want to know if we can work with just the three officers, or can we wait until next year.
Coun. Luke Stack is firm in his intentions.
“I will probably support the first three officers but I will not be supporting the additional officers,” he says. “I’m already concerned about about the increase overall, so I won’t be supporting the priority two request or bringing it forward."
Hiring three new officers will cost the city $239,000 next year plus an additional $478,000 in 2017 and 2018.
Hiring the additional three officers would add another $120,00 next year plus another $478,000 in 2017 and 2018, and would add to the 4.11 per cent property tax increase.
That’s somewhere Singh won’t go.
“There’s no way I would agree to that. Something would have to come out of the budget,” she adds. “But that means something else has to drop off."
Police services are estimated to cost the city $28.6 million next year, the largest single item in the budget.
The city wants to collect $120 million in tax from Kelowna property owners for 2016.
To contact a reporter for this story, email John McDonald at email@example.com or call 250-808-0143. To contact the editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-718-2724.