Coun. Cameron Stolz started a worthy conversation Wednesday when he carefully suggested to his city council colleagues that they consider clawing back some of the money they put into policing.
He didn't need to be so shy about it - the numbers speak for themselves.
In 2012, the police budget came in $2.1 million under budget.
The police budget has come in about $900,000 under budget over the last five years.
Clearly, the Prince George RCMP, the law enforcement contractor for the city, isn't in need of every dollar it receives.
Perhaps Stolz would have been more courageous if he would have reminded himself of the obvious - that money doesn't belong to the RCMP, it belongs to the taxpaying citizens of Prince George and it's not just his right, but his duty, as a city councillor to look for spending efficiencies, regardless of their source.
Stolz is urging council to leave a $1 million buffer for the police for 2013 and take the remaining $1.1 million to re-direct to other priorities. On one hand, he wants to cut the police budget but that's not the whole story. He's simply suggesting the police have less discretionary money and the city spend the difference.
Wisely, council voted to delay any decision on the RCMP budget until Feb. 25, to give time for city staff to examine the issue and to meet with police to find out what the impact of approving a reduced RCMP budget for 2013.
There are four issues to consider before going ahead.
First, Prince George RCMP will be moving into their new Victoria Street headquarters late this year. There will be certainly be higher operating costs in a larger building, although those might be offset by the gold LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) rating for the building to reduce heating and lighting requirements. Until it's known what impact the move and the new location will have, it might not be the right time to adjust the budget.
Second, Mayor Shari Green formed a task force on crime just last month to try and deal with the city's chronic crime issues and get out from under the Maclean's ranking as "Canada's most dangerous city." Once the task force makes recommendations, some cash will be needed to implement those recommendations. Stolz is suggesting half of that money the city would take could go towards the task force but it seems premature to set a budget when there's no idea what the task force will recommend or how much those recommendations might cost.
Third, the police surplus doesn't just disappear. It falls back into the city's general surplus fund, so the city does get to spend the money eventually, but only if the RCMP doesn't use it.
Lastly, the Canada Winter Games will be here in two years. While there certainly won't be the need for the security needed in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, extra policing will certainly be required during those two weeks in February.
With all of those factors in mind, some of them more intangible and unpredictable than others, it might be best to hold steady on the police budget for this year, particularly since council was warned by a senior city manager that the $2.1 million surplus was "an anomaly."
But here's one last tidbit for mayor and council to chew on over the next 10 days.
By applying that surplus police budget money and a little more creative cost cutting at city hall, this year's property tax increase could be zero.
That kind of tax relief through smart spending choices is just what voters have been demanding.