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Region sets budget benchmark

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

The regional portion of property taxes is set to increase by 2.5 per cent after the council’s most recent meeting.

After instructing staff to come back with a firmer number, regional council recently approved an increase of 2.5 per cent for the 2020 budget – but not without some debate.

The increase includes a 3.2 per cent increase for Durham Regional Police Services (DRPS), and 2.5 per cent jump for conservation authorities.

Pickering councillor Kevin Ashe, who is the chair of the Durham Police Services Board, explained they are hoping for further discussion regarding an increase to the police budget to allow for more frontline officers.

He then presented a motion to council, officially asking for the additional funding.

“That the budget guideline be amended by an increase of .22 per cent to an upper limit of 2.72 per cent, [with] this amount to include the hiring of 20 additional officers for the Durham Regional Police Service at a 2020 cost of $1.5 million, and that other modifications within the recommendations be made as necessary,” read the motion.

With the 2.5 per cent increase, the average taxpayer would see an increase of about $68 on their bill, but with the extra .22 per cent, it would be around $75.

Initially DRPS was hoping for an increase of 7.05 per cent, but it was cut to less than half.

In their budget, they were hoping to receive funding for 27 new frontline officers. However, in order to meet the region’s guidelines, those positions needed to be cut.

Police Chief Paul Martin told police service board members there are inherent risks in meeting the guidelines set by regional council.

However, Martin was not at the council meeting to address the councillors’ concerns.

Some councillors raised concerns about overall crime in the region going down, and whether there is an actual need for the additional officers.

Clarington councillor Joe Neal also noted there were a number of officers added through the budget in 2019.

“To my knowledge there hasn’t been a hiring freeze…,” said Neal.

Neal opposed Ashe’s amendment, noting he doesn’t believe there’s a need for the new officers as 47 have been added in the last two years.

“My understanding is that crime is going down, it’s not going up,” said Neal. “The other thing is, our population is… not going up at a great rate.”

Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier noted he’s in favour of more police resources, but he needs “justification on where [the need for 20 frontline officers] came from, and how it will be allocated.”

He explains he would rather address it during the actual budget process.

“I do have an issue with just amending the budget guideline… so I want to see how this number 20 was arrived at. Do we need 20? Do we need 30? I don’t know, so I would like to see more information,” he said.

After a lengthy debate, it was decided Ashe’s proposal will now be addressed at the regional council meeting on Feb. 26 when council considers the 2020 budget.