The Straight Goods by Marlene Wells
Over the past couple of weeks, the question of policing has occupied the minds of Stellarton taxpayers.
"The Town of Stellarton is investigating different forms of policing because of ongoing issues within the department and because of the rising cost of policing," said Coun. George Megeney, chair of the committee looking into it. Four options have been laid out before council. They are: to remain with the status quo, to form a joint force between Westville and Stellarton, perhaps with New Glasgow Police or to farm out a contract to the RCMP.
I have to admit right here I don't know what the answer is. But I will offer you some things to think about. The list here is not meant to be exhaustive, but just some things that come to mind.
Based on the numbers in two New Brunswick communities using RCMP services (and wishing they weren't), it costs approximately $210 per person to have the RCMP service a community. At that cost it would amount to approximately $942,000 to have the RCMP police Stellarton, at a depleted level of service. It will likely mean the loss of at least 50 per cent of personnel, and thus 50 per cent of service coverage. With a current budget for policing standing at $1.4 million, I don't see how cutting the level of service would actually save any money.
Consider this: In the policing budget is also at the cost of local support services like crosswalk guards. The cost of those services would have to be shuffled into another budget envelope. So there are no savings there. In thinking about the space the Stellarton Police occupies in the town hall - about 25 per cent of the structure - I don't see any savings coming in reducing expenses either. I mean, do you think that the town will cordon off that part of the building and not use it? Yeah, I don't think so either. Another town department will move into the area and the heat and light budget will be moved to another department.
Staying with the saving money idea, remind me why we are keeping the Stellarton Rink open? With payments to the Wellness Centre and according to the demographics, another rink in the county still needs to close, why is the town shelling out dollars to keep an aging rink open? Couldn't the savings derived from the closure of the rink be put toward the policing costs? (Alternatively, closing the rink would free up some dollars to pave Foord Street. Now, there's a thought.)
A public meeting to find out the thoughts of the people of Stellarton has been suggested by Denise Taylor saying that the town should "let the public have their say before a decision is made."
Mayor Gennoe, on the other hand, says, "I'm an elected official and I'm going to vote what's best for Stellarton and I'm not scared to vote that way."
Well, I'm not sure Taylor was saying she was scared to vote any particular way, but I am pretty sure that she is not afraid to ask the public for their opinion. We elect officials to make decisions on our behalf, but nowhere does it say that they should do it without consultation with the electorate. How do elected officials know what the people want if they don't ask? And when considering an issue that affects every citizen in the community - for the rest of their lives ... and their children's lives - when would it be more appropriate to ask for the input of those who elected you?
I implore you to educate yourself about this issue if you live in Stellarton. I know that I am going to continue to ask questions to find out what is the best option for the Town of Stellarton. I want to know exactly what the cost is for each one of these propositions. I want to know what line items are going to be farmed out, and which ones the town will retain. I want to know exactly how the final decision will affect our policing services before the decision is even made. I believe it is my right as a taxpayer in this community to know all of this information when it comes to a decision as important as this one.
Call your town office and ask for information. Call your ward councillor and ask them questions. Call the mayor himself. He has a duty to talk to you and to listen to you. Demand a public meeting to ensure we are all educated about the causes and the effects of this decision.
If I were mayor I would be jumping up and down with glee at the prospect of engaging a couple of thousand people on any issue. Here's your chance, Mr. Gennoe, you have the opportunity to get people talking, interested and engaged in local politics. Isn't that what we want from the electorate?