Moncton will double its community officer force as part of an effort to crack down on homelessness, drug use and crime that councillors acknowledged wouldn't solve root issues tied to struggles with mental health and addiction.
It was among several steps largely focused on enforcement approved Monday evening that will see spending increase this year by $1.1 million.
The debate that stretched almost three hours saw councillors voice concern about criminalizing homelessness, the need to respond to resident demands for action, and the cost.
"If we do make it difficult to live on our streets, they may eventually want to go somewhere else other than Moncton," Coun. Dave Steeve, a pastor, said of homeless people.
"I'm all about love, acceptance and forgiveness, but we as a city offer places for people to go. And at some point that it's stolen property and this is land you can't live on. I think that's where we're at today."
Councillors cast a series of votes Monday, though most items had several nay votes for varying reasons.
Council approved increasing the roster of the city's community officers from nine to 18 at a cost of $1,019,213. The cost includes vehicles, uniforms, training and equipment.
The city created the community officers last year through a contract with the Corps of Commissionaires N.B. & P.E.I. Division Inc.
They use municipal vehicles to patrol the city and respond to tent sites, can collect discarded needles and can issue tickets for bylaw violations.
While the city has asked the province to change legislation to give them similar powers as police officers, there's no indication when or if that change may take place.
Marc Landry, the city manager, told council the city will immediately work to fill the new positions with the contractor but it may take several months to have a fully trained and equipped compliment.
Coun. Shawn Crossman earlier said he couldn't support hiring more of the officers because it wouldn't solve the mental health and addictions issues believed to be driving crime.
"In order to support their addiction and mental health issues, they steal from the residents sitting over there [in council chambers] and from people in the apartment building that I live in," Crossman said.
"And they steal from everybody across the city to support their mental health and their addiction issues."
The votes Monday will also see the city spend $70,000 more for contractors to clean up tent sites, and $20,000 more on communications related to social issues and discarded needle collection.
Camera study rejected
Councillors rejected spending $40,000 to hire a consultant to study installing security cameras in "problem neighbourhoods."
Moncton resident Ryan Hillier told council in a presentation at the start of the meeting that even homeless people are community members, and the proposed actions could criminalize homelessness and send people into an overburdened justice system.
Kim Christie-Gallant, whose petition earlier this year led to Monday's votes, also spoke at the start of the meeting and called the plan insufficient.
"Ultimately, we feel the plan is vague, ill-written, a quick marketing response to crisis-level, complex issues, which does not provide concrete solutions or a sense of urgency to facilitate change," she said.
In an interview after the votes, Christie-Gallant said she remains disappointed and a citizen committee will continue to put pressure on governments to deal with the issues.
The funding for the new spending this year will come from an operating reserve account, money already collected from taxpayers, though staff warned service cuts or a tax rate hike may be needed in future years.
Whether a tax rate increase is required will depend on various factors, including how much the city's tax base increases because of rising property assessment values.
Police study underway
Moncton councillors also voted unanimously Monday to award a study of policing services to Perivale + Taylor Consulting at a cost of $265,707.
The study will compare costs and benefits of switching from the Codiac Regional RCMP to another force and the number of officers required.
It's expected to be complete before summer 2023. The review is in partnership with Dieppe and Riverview, which are also policed by Codiac RCMP.