The independent board overseeing Saanich Police has rejected a request from Saanich council to cut back the 2018 police budget, leaving councillors with some potentially difficult choices as they meet this week to finalize the 2018 municipal budget.
“While the [board] fully understand and supports [council]’s commitment to constrain the Municipal tax lift and to limit the cost of policing, the [board] is mandated to maintain the level of policing required to meet existing and new demands for services, in terms of both legal requirements and social developments,” reads a signed letter to council from the six members of the police board, including its chair, Mayor Richard Atwell.
Saanich councillors last month asked the police board to revise its provisional budget, which had called for a tax lift of 4.63 per because of changing policing needs that require six additional staff. Saanich councillors subsequently asked the police board to limit this increase to 3.5 per cent, citing financial constraints. But this request met with warnings of “unacceptable service reductions.”
Council subsequently softened its stance by signalling the police board that it would accept a “status quo” budget with an increase of 3.81 per cent. But after a meeting with council earlier this month, the police board rejected this figure as “not sufficient” to meet departmental needs in insisting on the original figure of 4.63 per cent. “The [board] is optimistic that upon reflection, and after its deliberation of the entirety of the [municipal] budget, [council] can fund the provisional budget as submitted.”
The board’s letter notes that the budget as presented represents the funding necessary to meet the “on-going and critical needs required to maintain an adequate level of policing” including in community engagement, crime prevention and youth programming.
If Saanich were to insist on the figure of 3.81 per cent, the police department would be required to eliminate three positions and the summer student program. Two proposed regional police positions would also go unfilled.
According to the letter, the positions proposed for elimination would lead to the “loss of significant community engagement and crime prevention programming.”
But if the police board continues to resist measures to trim the proposed increase beyond a certain figure, it also appears conscious that its proposed figure of 4.63 per cent lacks political support by suggesting various alternatives.
“[If] council chooses not to fund the proposed provisional budget, the [board] asks [council] to consider a lift of 4.36 per cent…over the 3.81 per cent,” the letter reads. “This equates to only .15 per cent increase to the overall budget. This amount would avoid layoffs and keep students employed over the summer.”
Surplus or one-time funding could also be used to fund the summer student program, if council rejects the figure of 4.36 per cent, the police board said.
The board also promised that it, “working with staff, will work diligently to find cost containment strategies” that would would moderate future cost increases.
The final size of the police budget is perhaps the most pressing, but hardly the only issue facing councillors as they meet Tuesday for what could be final budget deliberations.
Heading into the meeting, councillors face the prospect of having to approve a budget that proposes to raise property taxes by 3.7 per cent. But this figure could well change, as several councillors have called for a lower figure. Staff have also prepared several reports that outline the state of Saanich’s annual surplus and its use, the future of a fund dedicated to infrastructure replacements, and the future of a senior’s subsidy for recreation users.