Police services in Central Saanich account for approximately 26 per cent of the municipality’s operational costs, but on average account for 50 per cent of property tax increases over the last five years. (Central Saanich Police Services/submitted)

Police services in Central Saanich account for approximately 26 per cent of the municipality’s operational costs, but on average account for 50 per cent of property tax increases over the last five years. (Central Saanich Police Services/submitted)

Wages, benefits make up most of proposed Central Saanich police budget hike

Policing cost increases account for 50% of total property tax increases in past five years

Owners of an average-assessed home in Central Saanich are on track to pay an additional $42 for policing as the municipality prepares its 2022 draft budget.

The per-household figure would cover a proposed increase of $371,100 – or 6.94 per cent – in the police budget, which accounts for about 26 cent of the district’s total budget.

The figures are in a report discussed recently during a joint meeting of council and the police board.

Roughly $330,000 of the budget increase is for wages and benefits, with about two-thirds ($215,000) of that going toward previously negotiated wage increases and WorkSafe premiums, both non-discretionary items.

The proposed increase is in line with past years – the 2020 police budget was 6.9 per cent higher than 2019 – but Mayor Ryan Windsor, who chairs the police board, said the request is not something with which to trifle.

“It has a meaningful impact (on the overall budget), but at the same time, it is realistic,” he said.

Central Saanich’s per-capita cost for policing is around $330, he added later, “which is not the lowest, but kind of middle-to-low by comparison. Bigger cities like Vancouver are well over $500 per person.”

While municipal budget talks do not start in earnest until early 2022, the province required police departments to file provisional annual budgets by Nov. 30. The report speaks of “additional minor changes” to be made to Central Saanich’s police budget, but they are not expected to be significant.

“At this point, I’d struggle to say where significant savings would be found … given the cost pressures,” Windsor said.

RELATED: Central Saanich policing costs driving property tax hikes in municipality

It is not yet clear how much more property tax residents will pay in 2022 on top of the proposed $42 increase, but recent history suggests that amount will contribute heavily. In the past five years police budget increases have accounted for an average of 50 per cent of the total tax increase, the report stated.

“This disproportionate driver of increases constrains other service area capacity and levels in order to keep overall annual property taxation increases reasonable,” it continued. District staff will update council on police budget and other expenses prior to presentation of the complete budget and five-year plan in the new year.

Windsor acknowledged the significance of policing costs in relation to the municipal budget.

“It’s a large item and I don’t think there has been a year where I have been mayor where there hasn’t been scrutiny given to it,” he said. Those involved are aware of the cost pressures and are always looking to save money where possible, he added.

Windsor estimates that 10 per cent of residents have expressed concern about policing costs, while others, still mindful of costs, are focused on service. He pointed to the police department’s historical “no-call-too-small model.”

With 23 sworn officers in the department, it doesn’t take much calculation to understand the cost of day-to-day staffing in a model that offers 24/7 service, he said, adding Central Saanich police have a difficult job.

“They still face mental health calls, they still face calls for service, when there is an accident on the highway,” he said, or on one of the district’s many rural roads.

Hearing concerns about costs mixed with praise for the department’s service model, Windsor said, “we should always be scrutinizing the budget.”

Residents can follow the budget process at centralsaanich.ca.


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wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com

PoliceSaanich Peninsula