Pitt Meadows council has approved a 5.58 per cent operating budget increase for 2019.
In approving its 2019 budget, council opted not to hire another RCMP officer this year, nor will it build in three more officers to be hired every third year, starting in 2019.
In making her case for staffing increases, Ridge Meadows RCMP Supt. Jennifer Hyland talked about changes in law and greater complexity in enforcement that takes time away from officers.
She said with the RCMP moving to a union, she is anticipating changes. She said the one member proposed in 2019 would “beef up traffic services and enforcement” in Pitt Meadows, at a cost of $166,000 per year.
The detachment commander wanted to add another officer every third year, starting with the 2022 budget. She noted there are a corporal and two general duty constables in the community 100 per cent of the time. However, she noted that officers are often away on leave, taking courses or off sick, which reduced the number of general duty officers to two.
She suggested council increase each of four watches by one member to ensure there are generally at least three in the community providing a uniformed presence.
However, Mayor Bill Dingwall, a retired RCMP officer who once worked in Hyland’s position, spoke against hiring an officer this year, and building in staff increases. He noted this year’s hiring would take the city above the 5.58 per cent tax increase.
Speaking about the existing resourcing levels, Dingwall said he is “fairly happy with where we’re at,” noting the city pays for 23 members who service Pitt Meadows.
“That was my world, but I’m thinking we have sufficient officers …” he said, adding the city could do more.
“But it all comes at a cost.”
As to the request to “slot in a member every couple of years,” Dingwall said he is not in favour of that approach.
“For me, it’s important to hear on a year-by-year basis in terms of need, and criminal caseload per member, and police to population, and really around the business case for supporting additional members. And they are costly.”
Dingwall said the police-to-population ratio will never see dramatic increases, based on slow growth projects for the city. The population will max out at 25,000 in 2040, which is 5,500 more than now. So a staffing increase does not need to be built in.
He noted that council addressed the need for more firefighters this year, adding two, and needs to balance all of the city’s resourcing needs.
Coun. Tracy Miyashita said she did not like the idea of committing a future council to the hirings.
CAO Mark Roberts said giving police a build-in staff increase would be a different approach from all other city departments. Roberts added that two years ago, police implemented a new model where they stop and start shifts at the Pitt Meadows community police office, so there is a greater police presence.
Coun. Gwen O’Connell said having a police officer on every corner would still not eliminate crime, and said it is not realistic to build in automatic hires. She said the RCMP are visible and she is happy with the job they are doing, and looks forward to seeing more on bikes or on foot in the downtown area.
The 5.58 percent increase is an additional $170 for the average single-family home ($98 for a multi-family home). The city says 55 percent of the increase is outside of the city’s control and is attributed to contracted services such as Metro Vancouver utility costs, RCMP, Fraser Valley Regional Library and the new Provincial Employer Health Tax.
“A significant portion of the 2019 increase is imposed on the city,” said Dingwall. “All councils in the region are faced with the same issues, such as the new Provincial Employer Health Tax and increases to utility costs.”
Council also approved Bonson Road repairs south of Airport Way, near the Katzie reserve, at a cost of $280,000 from transportation reserves.
Dingall noted the city had a four-hour meeting with Katzie, and damage to the road by trucks was one of the issues brought forward.
“We are actively engaged with them, to hopefully address this component in the future,” said Dingwall. “We’re midstream, dealing with that.”
Council voted to continue with its current fire department communications system, which utilizes a repeater in UBC’s Malcolm Knapp Research Forest.
Acting fire chief Brad Perrie noted UBC is not happy with exposed power lines for the equipment, and they may have to be buried at a cost of about $250,000, or solar power with generator backup installed at a cost approximately $100,000.
Council will defer the decision, and bring it back to 2020 business planning, directing staff to research the financial and practical implications of transitioning to the E-Comm Radio System in 2020, which is used by surrounding cities, as well as any other viable options.
The financial plan and utility fee bylaws will both be back before council on March 12 for third reading, and adoption on March 19.