Saanich Police are asking for an increase of almost five per cent to their budget — a demand one citizens’ group considers too high.
“The new Saanich council has a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at the police services budget,” said Bruce Kennedy, board member with Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria. “Their challenge is to respect taxpayer fatigue and still provide an adequate level of police services in a community.”
The draft budget submitted by the Saanich Police Board requests a budget increase of $1,668,121 — or 4.97 per cent — to meet what the report calls “funding needs arising from anticipated wage increases, pay increments, increase in the benefit load, additions to staff, increases to committed operating expenses and the increased cost of regional policing units.”
Last year, Saanich council granted Saanich police a “status quo budget” with an increase of 3.81 per cent after considerable back-and-forth between both sides after Saanich Police had initially displayed little intention to scale back demands.
Of notable interest is the report’s explicit reference to two positions cut last year. “Additional resources are required to recover two of the five positions lost through 2018 budget reductions; those being, the Assistant Block Watch Coordinator and an Administrative Support Position,” it reads.
In short, the department wants to claw back concessions from this current council that the previous council had achieved in suggesting on-going bureaucratic tensions.
“Other internal demands require resources to improve capacity for training, information technology management, complex investigations, disclosure, and operational efficiency and effectiveness,” the report reads. “Regional police resources are required to support investigations relating to [cyber-crime], child exploitation and mental health investigations.”
Kennedy said escalating costs for emergency services across the region represent a major challenge for municipalities in the region. “This situation will require very difficult decisions in the years ahead for the Saanich Council, the Saanich Police Board, and taxpayers, both local and across the region,” he said. “At what point will agreeing to demands not be an affordable option?” he asked in raising questions about the sustainability and legitimacy of the police budget.
“Why are budgets increasing while crime trends have been dropping for years including the five-year trend for Crime Severity Index for Saanich?” he asked.
Political reactions to the proposed police budget have been muted. “On behalf of [council] regarding your present inquiry, it would be premature to provide an opinion on the proposed [police budget] at this time,” said Mayor Fred Haynes. “As with all [departmental] budgets, they will be presented as part of the [financial plan] process including [council] deliberation and decision as well as public input.”
While formal budget discussions have not yet started, the submission from the Saanich Police Board — the body overseeing the Saanich Police Department — starts to highlight some of the financial challenges awaiting council.
They include the introduction of the Employer Health Tax among others. The public also still awaits the final price tag for the clean up of the tent city that occupied Regina Park for several months, as well as council’s decision concerning its own remuneration rates.