Nanaimo council nixes new RCMP officers

NANAIMO – Councillors cut three additional RCMP members from budget to keep tax-rate increase at one per cent.

New hires for the Nanaimo RCMP have been chopped from the budget as politicians look to lower city taxes.

In a special committee of the whole meeting Friday, Nanaimo city council nixed plans to grow the local police force in a bid to reduce taxes, despite news of mounting pressures faced by the RCMP.

Three new RCMP members – a $327,000 expense – topped the list of more than $744,000 worth of staff-proposed budget cuts aimed at trimming this year’s tax hike to one per cent. City council also agreed to cut $91,510 from management consulting budgets and $50,000 to develop Linley Valley Park, and delay decisions around a new Hammond Bay fire hall until a core review is completed.

Nanaimo RCMP Supt. Mark Fisher told the News Bulletin he’s disappointed by the cut, which was part of his new five-year staffing plan, and says his team will now look at shuffling programs, services and staff in order to meet demands.

The latest decision follows last year’s $543,357 hiring delay. With crime on the decline and a new top cop, some city politicians said it was time to review the necessity of adding to the force.

During Friday’s meeting, Fisher presented his plan for the next half-decade, which calls for an additional 19 police. In 2008, the city agreed to pay for 24, but has only hired 15 to date and according to Fisher, the RCMP is facing  pressure from higher calls for service and a rise in property crime.

Last year, when council questioned the result of deferring new hires, Fisher said he told them it could potentially be street-level drug enforcement and property crime, and “that’s basically what’s been borne out now,” he said, adding he has concerns around level of victimization with 141 break-and-enters last year. The number is up 41 per cent over 2013.

There is also a 20 per cent increase in mental health-related calls, which Fisher calls a huge draw on resources, and more than 2,700 calls in 2014 compared to the year previous – the equivalent workload of four police officers.

Coun. Ian Thorpe, who voted against the budget cuts, said he would have been happy with a 1.5-per cent tax increase and keeping the RCMP. During his campaign, he said he heard concerns about maintaining a safe environment and said if the RCMP is stretched further with its resources, the things that will get cut are proactive programs like officers in schools.

He also pointed out that as the city grows, there will be more stress on the RCMP and wants to see if other savings in the budget can be put toward funding the police.

Nanaimo News Bulletin