There was one other specific service growth request to consider before the Service Review Committee could turn its attention to finding ways to cut expenditures. This was the matter of cameras to keep track of behaviour in the street.
A divided council had voted to send this for the committee’s consideration although Councillor Steve Orser, whose baby it was, had done his level best to circumvent the committee and send it directly to the budget meetings with a recommendation to fund it. The capital outlay for the cameras would be $100,000 and the upkeep $40,000 per year, just slightly less than what was being requested by Big Brothers, Big Sisters to expand their services to 41 more children who needed help.
Councillor Denise Brown wondered why the cameras requested for Old East Village couldn’t be paid for by the businesses, the same way the downtown cameras were handled. It was pointed out that those cameras were installed after a particularly violent incident which mobilized some concerned citizens to propose the program and do some fundraising. However, interest in the cause died after the initial burst of activity and the project had landed in lap of the city and its taxpayers, where it now costs $120,000 annually in maintenance costs.
Brown wanted to know if there had been a lot of violence in the downtown and what effect the cameras had. She was informed that there were some assaults, mostly drug-related. There was little evidence that the cameras resulted in moving crime to other areas or that it deterred crime. The incidence of crime rises and falls irrespective of the presence of cameras. Their chief effect was to assist police in investigations or to pre-empt possible trouble by indicating where there was loitering and having the police drive by to stave off any trouble.
Councillor Harold Usher pointed out that the merchants in the Old East Village are struggling: they wouldn’t be able to provide financial support for this initiative. And besides, Councillor Bill Armstrong had given notice at the last council meeting that he expected that the section of Dundas east of Clarke Road is also having problems; he’d be looking for cameras there too. Usher also took issue with the proposed placement of the cameras; why not one at Lyle Street where there was a bank? He had heard lots of complaints from that area.
“We could put in 20 cameras,” head of security Dave O’Brien replied. Staff had chosen the locations that would be most cost effective.
Usher was prepared to support this if it could be funded from one-time money. That would work for the capital outlay, he was told, but there would be the ongoing maintenance costs.
That caught the attention of Councillor Dale Henderson. Why couldn’t the cameras be monitored by the same people who were watching the downtown cameras, he wondered. Why should we be paying someone to watch a few cameras?
He was reminded of the answer to that question when it had been asked previously at the council meeting: the maintenance is for the servicing and repair of the cameras. $40,000 would be the cost for having the private sector contractor who was servicing the downtown cameras look after the additional cameras. Monitoring them would be handled by the existing security personnel. That information was also available in the report.
Councillor Joni Baechler was unequivocally opposed. She noted that cameras would not deter crime. People expect that business will boom once the cameras are operational, she noted, but they will be disappointed. What is needed are more feet on the street. That was being accomplished with the building boom that is going on there right now. And if it was simply to assist in police investigation, “it should be in the police budget,” she reasoned. The taxpayers had already spent well over over a million dollars on this project.
“We don’t have to vote on this now,” Councillor Joe Swan suggested. “We can just put it on the add list for further discussion.”
That was a bit of a reversal. The whole point of sending it to the Service Review Committee was to evaluate the worthiness of the proposal and make a recommendation to the council to aid in its budget deliberations. It’s why the committee exists.
Mayor Fontana agreed that the proposal merited further debate. He had been a strong supporter of the project at the previous committee and council stages; he thought there was a deterrence argument to be made. The motion to put it on the add list for the budget discussions passed easily.
Finally, they had reviewed all the items on the agenda. They had turned down only one: the $50,000 request for core funding by Big Brothers and Sisters.
It was not the direction that would get them to zero increase. Committee chair Nancy Branscombe had issued a challenge to those who had campaigned on zero. What ideas did they have for cutting expenses?
She was about to hear a few.