An advocacy group threatens to call the provincial government on the Saanich Police Board over the 2019 budget process.
Bruce Kennedy of the Grumpy Taxpayers$ said Saanich is denying the public a “meaningful discussion” about the police budget which accounts for about one-third of operational costs. It has a “tremendous impact” on the rest of the municipal budget and needs to be “properly and openly discussed,” said Kennedy, who will represent the group as a delegation before the Saanich Police Board when its members meet Friday.
Kennedy appears concerned about the prospect that Saanich council and police board are using provisions in British Columbia’s Police Act to short-circuit budget deliberations.
Kennedy points specifically to s. 27, sub-section 2 of the Police Act which states that “[any] changes to the provisional budget under subsection (1) must be submitted to council on or before March 1 of the year to which the provisional budget relates.”
“In our view, unless someone can correct us based on good legal authority, after March 1st the police board cannot submit any changes to the provisional budget,” said Kennedy in an email co-signed by his wife Laurie Kennedy to Mayor Fred Haynes, who also chairs the police board, police board members including Chief Constable Bob Downie, and members of council. “[So] it stands as is.”
The group, in other words, fears that Saanich is presenting the public with a fait accompli.
Any changes to the budget based on the group’s reading of the Police Act would also require approval by the provincial government.
“Our point is that waiting until this legal timeline comes into effect appears to be a poor way to be budgeting,” Kennedy said, in pointing to the current police budget discussions in the City of Victoria. “From our perspective it would be much more useful to do a proper and fully transparent public discussion about the police budgets much earlier.”
Kennedy said the group would call on the director of police services to investigate the compliance of the police budget with the Police Act should the police budget change after March 1.
Kennedy said the group is not necessarily counting on the province to intervene, but has no choice left.
“We have been given no other choice than to proceed this way,” he said.
The provisional budget as submitted by Saanich Police calls for an additional $1.668 million in funding — an increase of 4.97 per cent over last year’s budget. The group has questioned this requested increase against the backdrop of dropping crime rates.
In a response to Kennedy, Saanich staff say Saanich Police must submit any changes to the provisional budget before or on March 1.
“Neither the Police Act nor the Community Charter require municipal Council to review or approve the [police] budget by March 1st,” the response reads. “Council will approve this portion of the budget in the same time-frame as the established Financial Plan review process and in compliance with the Community Charter by May 15th.”
Kennedy acknowledged that Saanich council will discuss protective services including police on Feb. 28 as part of discussions set to start to Feb. 26. But these opportunities are insufficient based on the group’s interpretation of s.27, he said.
“The deliberation essentially doesn’t happen until the budget has to be passed,” he said.
He also acknowledged that last year’s police budget changed after March 1, but added that the Saanich Police Board has an obligation to comply with the Police Act.
Haynes, for his part, said he welcomed the group’s input and effort.
“That said, I believe there is little further I can add to help you regarding the description and explanation of processes followed by Saanich other than the explanations provided to you previously by staff,” he said. “I look forward to seeing you as a delegation at the board meeting on Friday and to hearing your additional inputs then.”