By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Durham Region is now one step away from approving the 2020 budget.
The region’s finance and administration committee recently approved a 2.2 per cent increase over last year.
This is less than the 2.5 per cent increase recommended by staff late last year.
The increase will see the average household pay $59 more in taxes, while commercial buildings will pay $89 more, and industrial sites will pay an additional $248.
The recommended 2020 budget includes gross expenditures of approximately $1.4 billion, and a tax levy of $698.8 million.
While the finance and administration committee discussed the budget, one issue, previously recommended by staff, resurfaced: the need for more frontline police officers.
While the police board brought in a budget meeting the recommended 3.2 per cent increase, they had to eliminate any new positions from the 2020 budget.
Because of this, Pickering councillor and chair of the police services board Kevin Ashe brought forward a motion, seconded by Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier, to increase the 2020 budget in order to add 20 new frontline officers at a cost of $1.5 million.
Ashe noted other municipalities had asked for more officers, singling out York (34), Peel (53), Halton (23), Toronto (140), Niagara (40), and Ottawa (100).
Oshawa’s Ward 5 city and regional councillor Brian Nicholson was vocal in his support for the amendment.
“I’m going to support the motion. I would rather the number 20 be replaced with the number 100, but that’s not before us at this particular moment in time,” he said. Yet he noted he is still concerned
with the number of officers in Durham Region.
“It’s my concern that while this is a step in the right direction, it is still insufficient to meet the needs of our growing communities,” he explained.
He pointed out he has two major concerns with the police presence across the region.
“One is that we’re not providing an adequate level of service because we haven’t been able to increase our frontline policing numbers over the last eight years or so to any standard that matches the growth in our community,” he explained.
He’s also concerned with the amount of stress officers are experiencing on the job, and the number who are on sick leave due to stress related illness. He added the number of officers on sick leave adds to the pressure on those who remain.
“There comes a point where we have to ask ourselves, ‘Have we done enough as a council to address the situation?’” he said.
Nicholson said he wants to see a long-term staffing plan to not just add 20 officers in one year, but a plan which looks at adding 100 officers over an extended period of time.
“The police services board shouldn’t have to come cap in hand, asking to add officers to provide public security where it’s very obviously needed,” he said.
The amendment itself ended up facing no resistance, as committee voted to recommend council approve adding 20 officers unanimously.
The finance committee also voted to move $206,000 away from nondepartmental funding, and move it to economic development.
This amendment was brought forward by Collier, who said he no longer wants to support Toronto Global, as the organization, and its predecessor, have brought no new jobs to Durham despite receiving
money from the region. While some committee members, such as Oshawa’s Ward 4 councillor Rick Kerr, felt it was prudent to continue working with Toronto Global as opposed to against them, others felt it
was like “beating a dead horse.”
Ultimately, the amendment carried, albeit narrowly. Now, since the same motion was brought forward at the most recent planning and economic committee meeting, the decision to move the funds will be debated at council.
The budget now heads to council for final approval on Feb. 26.