Crime trends down but budgets up?

Kamloops Daily News
January 28, 2013 01:00 AM

In a world locked into inflationary patterns - greater needs, higher expectations, rising costs - authorities scarcely know what to do when arrows point in the opposite direction.

With the City's yearly budget review, it's as though the law of gravity no longer applies.

Council has a tougher job than usual this year to rein in spending and head off a preliminary tax increase of almost four per cent. Another $3 million in operating and capital requests would drive taxes even higher by more than seven per cent.

When was the last time you saw your paycheque increase by those amounts? How are people on fixed incomes supposed to keep up?

Inviting input from taxpayers, the City is looking high and low - as high as the Canada Games Pool roof and as low as an odour lift at the River Street pump station - for ways to trim costs.

Here's one area that deserves close scrutiny: staffing increases. Publicly funded jobs should not be increase out of proportion to the population or tax base growth. City administrators are asking for an additional 11 staff as much of the rest of the world cinches its belt another notch or two.

Consider policing costs, one of the more expensive budget items. With crime falling in every category save domestic violence, why is the law-enforcement budget going up? RCMP added two more officers to the local detachment last July, bringing the officer complement to 120.

The argument has been made before - and it will be made again in this round - that crime has fallen because enforcement has increased. Crime has been falling continent-wide for more than 20 years for a variety of reasons: an aging population, increased incarceration, under-reporting, smarter policing and technological change (the distraction of video games and the use of camera phones have been cited as factors).

The staff increase enhances the force's ability to deal with two problem areas, specifically domestic violence and mental health cases, RCMP staff told council. Domestic violence calls increased to 1,300 last year compared to 1,060 in 2011, an alarming jump. With mental health, a new integrated case management approach is expected to bridge the cracks that so many people seem to fall through, winding up in the street.

In both cases, the need is clear, the arguments irrefutable.

Yet if crime is dropping in all other categories, is it not reasonable to ask whether resources could be diverted from enforcement efforts no longer justified?

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