Richmond has a reputation for being one of the safest cities in the region. But while it enjoys a very low crime rate, a moderate increase in the last few years, coupled with a recent rash of incidents, has raised concerns.
Recognizing public safety as a top priority, and committed to eradicating crime wherever possible, city councillors voted in favour of a 2021 operating budget that provides for the hiring of an additional 16 RCMP police officers. The new budget represents a 5.68 per cent tax increase for 2021.
“I’ve always tried to keep taxes down (but) we need to look at safety first,” said Coun. Bill McNulty, who put the third option on the table after staff recommended a slightly lower increase.
“(During the COVID-19 pandemic) we’ve had shootings, drive-bys, arsons, all kinds of issues we haven’t faced before in Richmond,” he said. “An $82 increase (per average household with an assessed value of $996,000) as opposed to a $51 increase can mean the difference between safety in our community and not being safe. We need to have every officer that we can on the street.”
McNulty also stressed that there’s no certainty Richmond will get all the additional officers it is hoping for.
“We’re lucky to get RCMP officers, with the rest of Canada asking for officers too. We need to put our oar in the water now—we’re not going to see an officer for 14 to 24 months anyhow.”
However, Coun. Chak Au was not in favour of the “historical” increase, saying he would not approve growth of more than five per cent.
On April 14, 2020, in response to the pandemic and uncertainty around collecting property taxes, council approved a 2.01 per cent reduction to the 2020 property tax increase that had been approved Dec. 9, 2019 by eliminating the additional one per cent transfer to reserve. As a result, that deferred the hiring of 12 RCMP officers and five municipal employees to support the RCMP detachment, as well as the City Centre North Community Centre operating budget phase-in, and the operating budget impact from the 2020 capital budget.
“We’ve been playing catch-up, we had a very low ratio of police to our population,” said Mayor Malcolm Brodie. “I hear so many people talking about being in favour of community safety and how we really have to be safe as a community. What is more fundamental than having police officers?”
The 2021 budget also accounts for 11 new municipal workers to support the RCMP detachment, as well as 12 additional firefighters. The full breakdown of increases is as follows:
• 0.99 per cent for same-service budget increase of $2,380,910 after tax growth
• One per cent for transfer to reserves in the amount of $2,393,567
• 0.11 per cent for senior government increase of $255,000
• 0.67 per cent for $1,609,318 deferred for community safety increases from 2020’s operating budget
• 0.13 per cent for partial funding of operating budget impact from 2019 capital budget year three of three, $311,220
• 0.59 per cent for $1,409,684, the remainder of the operating budget impacts
• 1.24 per cent for the hiring of 16 RCMP officers and 11 municipal employees in the amount of $2,990,022
• 0.18 per cent for same-service budget increase of $421,700
• 0.02 per cent for a senior government increase of $45,000
• 0.75 per cent for the hiring of 12 firefighters in the amount of $1,801,859
For more perspective, you can watch the council discussion online.
Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel