Council cuts leeway from policing budget
After several years of surpluses, city council decided to cut the cushion on the policing budget.
With little to no control over the cost of policing, the city has a history of caution when it comes to setting the budget for policing, resulting in a surplus of about $900,000 annually over the last five years.
This year the proposed budget was set at $21.6 million. Instead council set the budget at $20.4 million, still $1 million more than what was spent last year.
However, Supt. Eric Stubbs said last year’s surplus, which was over $2 million, was an anomaly.
He said the main reasons for last year’s large surplus were a high number of absences because of parental leave and medical issues as well as job vacancies for a number of high-paying jobs.
He pointed out the municipality doesn’t pay officers on parental leave, nor does it pay for medical leave after the officer is off for 30 days.
“There were a number of high-paying job vacancies for the most part vacant in the calendar year of 2012,” he said
He added the promotion system within the RCMP isn’t very efficient. For example, a staff member left in April and the person who was to replace the officer was decided on in September, however the position remains vacant while the replacement waits for a buyer for his home in Nanaimo.
Stubbs said the contract is structured to pay for 128 regular members at a cost of $152,000 per member. The $20.4 million budget the city set equates to 109.5 members.
“This year the fund proposed is $20.4 million which equals 109.5 members, which concerns me,” he said. “I know there is some rationale, but it concerns me. It is a downward trend.”
He added he understands the fiscal pressures the city is under.
“This organization has surpluses,” he said. “We have a target on our back.”
He added they are being funded less but clearly need more to achieve what they want to achieve.
Stubbs pointed to a resource study that looks at how busy officers are. In 2008 the study concluded local officers did not have enough time to look at proactive policing.
“It concluded we needed 12 more people,” he said. “If they redid the study my guess is we would need at least 16 more members.”
He added there are many more demands on an officer’s time with crimes ranging into areas like texting and Facebooking as well as bullying and a focus on domestic violence.
“The report didn’t equal a plan,” he said.
Another factor is the police don’t really have a budget for large projects, like a complex drug case or a murder case. He said these could cost anywhere from $25,000 to $5,000,000. As an example Stubbs pointed out the recent break in the Bacon case, something he said likely cost millions.
Smaller units like the Downtown Enforcement Unit and the Domestic Violence unit are not funded. Instead officers are taken from general duty units, leaving those units short-handed.
“I think we have to take a different look at how we staff the detachment,” Stubbs said.
He added there needs to be more boots on the road.
“Fundamentally we have to switch gears so we have more flexibility to adapt to chronic conditions in the community.”
Mayor Shari Green pointed out there has been budget surpluses.
“The challenge is why aren’t you spending it?” she asked.
Coun. Cameron Stolz said council’s idea was not to cut at the RCMP budget, nor was it to point fingers at city staff for risk-management styles.
“The excess has been about $1 million a year,” Stolz said. “The question is how best to use our resources.”
He said the 2013 budget aligns with what was actually spent in 2012, and the proposed increase is $1 million, which is fairly significant, and leaves $1.2 million that could be better used elsewhere.
Stolz added if the budget goes over this year it shouldn’t be a problem, but would mean risk management should have remained more conservative. Coun. Dave Wilbur said if council sees a budget item that isn’t tight enough, it should be changed. Stubbs said council has been clear they do not want a decrease in service level.