Policing, choir funding dominate second Region of Waterloo 2022 budget input session

The Region of Waterloo 2022 budget was back under the spotlight for the second time Wednesday night.

Council heard from 17 delegates at a public input session, wheremuch of the conversation surrounded a proposal to add 35 full time police positions for an increase of $12 million to the police budget.

“Council has the authority to send that police budget back to the Police Service Board and I would request that you strongly consider doing that,” said delegate Stephen Furmaniuk.

“Save these funds for upstream interventions and the needs of those currently marginalized in our community,” said delegate Elizabeth Robertson.

Many of the delegates who spoke about not increasing the police funding said the money could instead be spent on low income housing or community services.

“Any additional resources provided by the region or reallocated from the police budget for rent subsidies, and supporting these tenants with mental health and addictions concerns to stay housed would help make our community healthier, safer and more inclusive,” said Kristen Thompson on behalf of Reallocate Waterloo Region.

The majority of the remaining meeting surrounded a recommendation to cut funding for the Grand Philharmonic Choir.

The choir received discretionary funding of $32,130 in 2020 and 2021. Region staff recommend the choir is not eligible under any current grant streams. 

The choir said cutting that funding represents around eight per cent of the operating budget.

“To do so, at this time as we come out of an unprecedented global pandemic would be completely destabilizing to the choir as we continue to plan for the future in uncertain times,” said Mark Vuorinen, the artistic director for the Grand Philharmonic Choir.

The choir would keep operating if it doesn’t get the funding, but losing the money means certain programs would be cut. 

Vuorinen sees the choir as a piece of the community along with the KW Symphony and Centre in the Square.

“It’s the oldest arts organization in the region, it’s the only symphonic choir, and it's the only arts organization that has consistent, inclusive, accessible programming for citizens aged seven to over 77,” said Sean Simpson with the Grand Philharmonic Choir.

Regional Councillor and Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic says he’s hopeful staff will present some different options and council will find a funding solution for the choir by final budget day.

“We did ask staff for final budget day to bring back an indication of how we could return some of the dollars that are being contemplated to be taken out of the granting budget,” he said.

There are still several steps to go in the 2022 Budget process. 

The Waterloo Region Police Service will make a presentation on Monday, while a third public input session will be held on Dec. 8.

The entire budget is expected to be approved on December 15.​