Saanich Monday reversed an earlier decision that would have slowed down the growth of the police budget, if approved.
Council Monday signalled the police board that it would accept a “status quo” budget with an increase of 3.81 per cent.
This decision happened after council meeting as committee-of-the-whole earlier had asked the police board to submit a revised budget in line with a 3.5 per cent lift, citing budget pressures.
The budget submitted by the police board calls for an increase of 4.63 per cent because of changing policing needs that require six additional staff. They include among others new officers to help with mental health cases and Internet child exploitation investigations. The police board submission also warned of “unacceptable service reductions” in policing if Saanich council insists on limiting the lift to 3.5 per cent.
This warning appears to have made an impact, as several councillors, who had supported the lower figure earlier this month, sounded more conciliatory in citing safety concerns.
“What we are looking for is status quo,” said Coun. Fred Haynes. “We do want Saanich to be safe. We don’t want to reduce safety for our residents and that is linked to status quo staffing. Where I had concern was growth in staffing and the escalated cost…in subsequent years.” The goal of the figure of 3.5 per cent was trying to sent a clear message, he said. The new figure will have the same effect, he said.
Coun. Judy Brownoff, who was absent when council approved the figure of 3.5 per cent, sounded a similiar tone in urging the police board to be more mindful of their budget. “They really have to look at their budget,” she said. “They can’t have peaks and valleys. They have to somehow smooth it out.”
She was especially critical of the police board’s apparent practice to hire staff halfway through the budget year in stressing her opposition to new hirings. “I’m pro status quo,” she said. “I don’t support new hirings, but that will be up to them in how they finance it.”
Police board officials have said that the board might hire new staff anyway by shifting resources.
Opponents of the earlier figure — Mayor Richard Atwell and Coun. Leif Wergeland — sounded pleased with the decision.
“Policing has changed dramatically over the years,” he said. “Because it has changed, it has become very expensive.”
In a late twist though, Saanich Police Chief Bob Downie also kept the lower figure of 3.5 per cent alive, and Coun. Colin Plant reserved the right to come back to it.
“Anything can still be discussed,” said Plant. “But it is a little disingenious for us to say, ‘here’s [a figure] of 3.81 [per cent] but we are still thinking 3.5 [per cent]. But with the Chief’s comments, that is still out there, then we will have that discussion. So I lent my support tonight, but everything is still on the table.”