Esquimalt pained over proposed police budget hike

Esquimalt councillors feel they’ve been handed a bill with a police fee increase they say can’t be paid.

Concern stems from how the price tag has been calculated.

The proposed 2011 Victoria police budget is based on a hike in B.C. property assessment values, but those vastly differ from a federal assessment of and payment on CFB Esquimalt properties last year.

As a result, Esquimalt received about $100,000 less from the feds than expected.

Council says that doesn’t bode well in light of a proposed $462,000 increase in policing fees for Esquimalt – bringing its total share to almost $6.4 million for 2011.

“I think that’s not doable,” said Coun. Lynda Hundleby, adding that it “does not take into account any of our concerns whatsoever. That’s causing me some pain.”

The increase would represent a more than two-per-cent tax hike in the township.

“They’re not only asking us to pay an increase, but they’re not taking into account our ability to pay,” said Laurie Hurst, Esquimalt chief administrative officer. “And we didn’t receive tax funding for those assessments they’re asking us to pay on.

“It just baffles the mind.”

But Victoria police Chief Const. Jamie Graham defended his department’s request for more money, mostly to up salaries and benefits for the department’s 243 members, and hire three more officers and three civilians.

“We have more officers on patrol in Esquimalt than the pre-amalgamation days,” Graham told Esquimalt council on Monday. “And I will attest that our officers are responding to a number of calls – and not just emergency situations – in Esquimalt on a daily basis.”

He said additional staff would help offset an increased workload for a police force that “experiences some of the highest call volumes and caseloads in the province.”

Although Esquimalt residents say they desire dedicated patrols in the municipality, the chief said there is a “misconception” that officers are not providing a visible presence there.

As for complaints over the funding formula – how the police budget is divvied up between Victoria and Esquimalt – should be taken up with the province, the chief said.

“Think of the addition of these positions as a return on investment – an investment in public safety,” Graham said.