Vernon City councillors are considering cutting RCMP services—which may include foot patrols that have reduced crime downtown—to keep this year's tax increase at a minimum.
That doesn't sit too well with Supt. Reg Burgess who says you get what you pay for—and that the required reductions are a big mistake. Council adopted the budget decrease today, but may have options in the future to restore the funding.
Burgess said the limitation on expenditures will have a big impact on human resources and proactive services.
"My concern is the drop to human resource levels will put us back three to five years ago," Burgess said, noting achievements in crime reduction in recent years directly related to higher staffing. He said proactive services, namely foot officers who provide visibility and prevent criminal activity, will be diminished with the cuts.
Burgess said he anticipated being under budget this year, which would have allowed for a fuller piggy bank carrying into 2013. But a "significant jump" in spending in the fourth quarter, which Burgess is investigating, has made that impossible.
Coun. Juliette Cunningham wondered about the loss of foot patrols, and how it might impact the downtown area.
"When we originally put in place foot patrol, my understanding was we had a huge issue around homeless people... concerns with loitering," she said, adding those problems seem to have subsided.
Burgess said the downtown enforcement is currently aimed at open drug dealing and prostitution.
"You remove downtown visibility, you will see a very marked increase in crime on the streets of open drug dealing and prostitution," Burgess said. He noted that uniform patrols keep that activity out of the limelight.
Coun. Mary-Jo O'Keefe asked if there was any duplication of services between bylaw officers and police.
"We have a close relationship with bylaw," Burgess said. "They are our eyes and ears and deal with things that would otherwise end up with police. They give us a good bang for our buck."
If he had more authority, he said he would hire more bylaws. In the absence of foot patrols, Burgess said he would have to find eyes from somewhere else. Inevitably, this would be the school liason, which Burgess is reluctant to move.
"She's very effective, and goes beyond her role," Burgess said of the school liason officer. "She nips those young people from becoming repeat offenders.... If I had more bodies, I would put in a second school liason."
Coun. Bob Spiers reminded council that money was taken out of the RCMP reserve in years past, money that would have been useful now. He said some money was transferred to the Affordable Housing reserve, and some for roadwork around Middleton Mountain.
"What I'm saying is RCMP should have a heck of a lot more money in that reserve," Spiers said.
Coun. Cunningham suggested council get creative and come up with a solution—potentially transferring money out of Affordable Housing—to avoid ramifications on the RCMP, and subsequently, the community.
Coun. Catherine Lord noted the reductions hit RCMP harder than they do the city staff. Her solution was to amend the decision to limit tax increase to 1.8 per cent by stating RCMP would not dismiss any staff until the results of the core services review come in. The review compares Vernon with similar municipalities, and gives recommendations on where to cut and where to keep. The results are anticipated this March.