The City of Richmond will move ahead with a 5.68 per cent tax increase despite some councillors arguing now is not the time to hire new RCMP officers and firefighters.
City Coun. Chak Au pointed out Richmond’s RCMP contingent is higher per capita than some major cities in the Lower Mainland, including Coquitlam and Burnaby.
Statistics from 2019 show Richmond had one officer for every 766 Richmond residents. In comparison, Burnaby had one for every 799 residents and Coquitlam had one for every 829 residents.
Furthermore, Au pointed out, taxes have been kept low in Richmond over the past decade – often under three per cent – and even last year, during the pandemic, taxes were decreased by two per cent.
“Why would we have the highest increase in this situation?” he asked council at Monday’s council meeting where the tax increase of 5.68 per cent – that allows for the hiring of 16 new RCMP, 11 new municipal employees to support the RCMP and 12 new firefighters - was on the table after being initially recommended last week by the finance committee.
While city staff recommended a 2.9-per-cent budget increase and to budget for fewer new RCMP officers, in a 5-3 decision, council voted to go ahead with budgeting in 2021 for all 39 new emergency personnel.
Coun. Alexa Loo pointed out there have recently been shootings, arsons and a fentanyl lab discovered in Richmond.
Eighteen months ago, a drug lab was found next door to where Loo lives, which would have “blown a hole in my kids’ bedroom, if that place had gone up,” she explained.
“We need to have enough RCMP officers to investigate and prosecute these criminals,” Loo said. “We can’t let them keep operating in our communities and our neighbourhoods.”
Mayor Malcolm Brodie, arguing for both more RCMP and firefighters, said the city is catching up on commitments that were made to fund these positions.
“We are making our commitments to having a safe community, which is the foundation of a healthy community,” Brodie said.
Council voted in 2019 to a three-year rollout of more RCMP officers and firefighters. This was modified last year during the pandemic in order to lower taxes.
The 5.68 per cent increase will mean an average tax increase of $99 per household.
Couns. Carol Day, Michael Wolfe and Au voted against the increase.
There will be a public consultation process starting in early February.