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New West poised to approve 2022 budget – but policing continues to raise concerns

Council to consider budget bylaw in January
City council will consider a bylaw in January that incorporates a 4.4% property tax and a $170.7-million capital budget.

The New Westminster Police Department’s budget continues to throw a wrench into the city’s budget deliberations.

Last year, council was on track to approving the city’s 2021 budget in December, when council sent it back to the police board and asked it to submit a police budget that incorporated a 0% increase. After some back and forth between council and the police board, council approved a 2021 budget that included the requested increase to the NWPD, thus avoiding the need to possibly go a dispute mechanism with the province.

At Monday’s meeting, some concerns were once again raised about the police department’s budget.

In a four-to-two vote, council instructed staff to convert the draft 2022 to 2026 financial plan into a budget that reflects a 4.4% property tax increase for 2022 and a $170.7-million capital budget for 2022. Councillors Chinu Das, Patrick Johnstone, Jaimie McEvoy and Chuck Puchmayr supported the budget, while Acting Mayor Mary Trentadue and Coun. Nadine Nakagawa voted against the staff recommendation. (Mayor Jonathan Cote was not at the meeting.)

“I am in a very awkward position of not feeling like I can actually support this budget,” Trentadue said. “It’s purely because of my not feeling supportive of the police budget.”

Trentadue said she was frustrated and disappointed that city council didn’t have an opportunity to discuss and collaborate on the police budget earlier in the process.

“I would really welcome the opportunity to have those discussions earlier; I think it’s important that we try and maintain a better dialogue and collaboration with the police board so that we can get to a place where all of us can support this,” she said. “But in my mind, this is a very similar budget for the police board as last year, and I am just unable to support it.”

In November, the police board approved a 2022 provisional operating budget for the police department that requested a net increase of $602,000 (2.36%) over its 2021 budget. A report to the police board said the NWPD’s $26.1-million budget includes $860,000 for contractual salary increases for police officers and civilian staff, increases for E-Comm services and office and administrative services required to complete an operational review of the department.

“I did want to highlight that we did have a meeting with the board and council,” Chief Const. Dave Jansen told council Monday night. “We went through our whole budget on Nov. 4, which I don’t think we have ever done before, so I just wanted to highlight that aspect. We did go through our operating budget at that time.”

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said he has “nothing but good to say about the NWPD” and described the NWPD as “a leader in policing.” While he supported the budget, he said he was puzzled that council didn’t have a presentation from the police department during the budget workshops, which was how it was done for many years.

“This year we had the whole operating budget on the same day,” said Lisa Spitale, chief administrative officer. “It sort of represented all of the interdepartmental work that we did, so it was brought together that way. We did have an entire session on the operating budget, which affects all departments. I guess my assumption is, had there been other questions, it probably could have been at that workshop.”

Instead of presentations from each city department describing their budget requests, this year’s staff presentations were presented under themes. They were also presented in a way that showed how they connect to council’s strategic and climate change priorities.

Increases coming

City council will consider three readings of the draft 2022 to 2026 financial plan bylaw at its meeting on Jan. 10.

Harji Varn, the city’s director of finance, said the budget incorporates initiatives related to council’s strategic priorities, including climate action, affordable housing, reconciliation and engagement and core services. She said it also includes funding to address emerging priorities, including COVID response, extreme weather, the overdose crisis and homelessness.

The 4.4% property tax increase includes 2.7% ($2.6 million) for fixed costs and salary increases, 1.6% ($1.5 million) for increases to insurance premiums, and 0.8% ($0.8 million) for service enhancements.

The operating budget includes funding for police, fire, parks and recreation, engineering, development, library, cultural and administrative services.

The City of New Westminster’s proposed $170.7-million capital budget includes funds for a wide variety of initiatives, including the təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre, a new Queensborough substation and distribution grid, automated electrical meters and greenway projects.

The city launched its 2022 budget process in the summer with workshops with city committees, followed by an online webinar and survey in September. Council and staff discussed the budget at special workshops, including: the proposed capital budget (Oct. 4); the proposed operating budget and utility rates (Nov. 1); and proposed service enhancements and a funding strategy (Nov. 29).

On Nov. 15, council approved 2022 utility rates that include a 7% increase for sewer, a 7% increase for water, a 2.8% increase for electrical and a 14.5% increase for solid waste.

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus