Kelowna’s policing shortcomings have been long lamented, but a Monday afternoon decision by council should ensure an end to further conversations on the matter—for awhile, anyway.
Council put their support behind a plan that will ultimately bolster the local police force by seven members in 2012—in addition to the four previously approved—and create a funding base to ensure the hiring of 20 extra Mounties and one new civilian member by 2015.
The roster increase would allow for “proactive policing,” said Keith Grayston, director of financial services, adding it also would amount to a one per cent tax bump per year until 2015.
In total, the 2012 cost will roll in at just under
$1 million, putting an effective end to the near-zero budget that council previously trumpeted.
“Maintaining satisfactory policing levels is essential, and the Prosser report (on policing resources) showed we were significantly behind,” said Coun. Robert Hobson.
“As reluctant as I am to spend more money, the writing is on the wall. I’m supportive of the direction and the one per cent protective service uplift for this year and the years ahead.”
Councillors also pointed out that one man should be getting the credit for ensuring that Kelowna
has a healthy complement of police officers.
RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon passionately makes a plea for more officers during every annual budget deliberation and this year he was particularly forceful, noting that recent mistakes by junior officers could have been avoided had there been proper staffing levels.
“I saw McKinnon outside one day and he said ‘we really need help’ and he said it so emotionally,” said Coun. Gerry Zimmermann, crediting McKinnon with the action taken Monday. In addition to the costs for extra officers, policing has taken a bite out of the city’s 2012 budget. RCMP salary increases amounted to an extra 1.75 for this years budget. Luckily, Grayston said, the city already accounted for 1.5 per cent, meaning that taxpayers are only on the hook for an additional $35,000 in 2012.
“There are other costs and potential cost savings coming, but they haven’t come up yet,” said Grayston.
One issue coming is the possibility of a cost associated to the RCMP salary agreement that had been rolled back by the Federal Treasury Board in 2009.
“We will be waiting for information,” he said.