A Central Saanich councillor is raising critical questions about the police department’s plan to electrify parts of its vehicle fleet.
Coun. Gordon Newton wondered whether plans to replace seven police vehicles with electric vehicles makes financial sense.
“Maybe now is not the time that we should be looking at that part and try to find ways to be mindful of the residents’ tax-dollars,” he said.
He made these comments during Central Saanich’s final council meeting of 2022, when councillors received the provisional budget for the municipality’s current five-year-capital plan that includes $730,000 for the vehicles. It would cost the municipality $295,000 less — about 40-per-cent less — if it were to replace the vehicles with conventional vehicles.
Newton had pointed out earlier that the police department’s budget is already expected to rise by about five per cent each — or just under $290,000 — per year, a figure confirmed by staff.
“When we are looking at all these driving factors, I can appreciate that Central Saanich is a leader in climate action,” he said. “(But) we also have to be realistic about where the dollars are coming from to pay for this.”
Mayor Ryan Windsor, who chairs the police board, said the figures do not yet include future cost savings. While he acknowledged that electric vehicles cost more, he added that he needed more information before making a decision.
Staff had earlier pointed that council had approved the electrification plan in June.
Newton, for the record, was the lone of voice of opposition. According to staff report, funding for the conversion is coming from police fleet reserves and municipal general reserves. While Newton acknowledged that the money is not coming from the policing budget, he added that in the end, the money is still coming from taxpayers.
In the end, council unanimously received the proposed policing budget, but also tasked staff to look into the cost-savings realized by other departments, which have been converting the fleets toward electric vehicles.
Windsor cautioned that that might be difficult exercise as it is not clear when those vehicles would actually come into service.
Central Saanich’s police budget has in the past been a source of contention around the council table.
A report released last year found policing cost increases account for 50 per cent of total property tax increases in past five years.
Key cost drivers include wages and benefits. Almost 80 per cent of the provisional operating budget of $6.04 million goes toward wages and benefits (excluding secondments) while contracted services and integrated units account for 11 per cent. According to staff, the policing budget represents $702 of property taxes to an average homeowner, or a 1.49 per cent or $32 increase over 2022.
Chief Const. Ian Lawson described the provisional budget as a “status quo budget” in terms of services with two officers in line for promotions (and salary bumps), one going from constable to sergeant position, the other from sergeant to staff sergeant. Lawson said earlier that the department has a roster of 23 active officers with five on secondment.
Central Saanich is one of 11 municipalities in British Columbia with its own municipal police force and figures from the provincial government show it to be one of the most cost-effective on a per capital.
In 2020, the per capita cost was $278. Only Oak Bay had a lower per-capita cost with $273. Victoria had the highest with $530, while Saanich’s per-capita cost was $286. The average per-capita cost for the 11 departments was $419.
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