The City of Victoria and the Township of Esquimalt must figure out how to fund six new police officers after the province mandated the municipalities uphold the Victoria Police Department’s 2018 budget request.
On Wednesday afternoon the Police Services Division wrote both municipalities with its decision to side with the VicPD request to hire six more officers, a request that was initially denied in 2018 due to Esquimalt’s decision to veto the cost.
For 2019 this will total to $40,000 for Esquimalt, and $300,000 for Victoria, as recruitment of officers will likely not occur until September. In subsequent years, Victoria city council was told on Thursday morning that costs for these officers will be $667,000 in 2020 – due to a one-time cost of $60,000 – and $606,000 in subsequent years.
So far Esquimalt council has not heard a presentation on the budget from the police department, but Victoria has already voted to cut $858,000 and asked for a revised budget. The move is something that Chief Const. Del Manak had previously said could put up to nine jobs at risk.
In a committee of the whole meeting on Thursday, Victoria city councillors debated two aspects of the upcoming revisions.
First, the Victoria Police Board had asked the City to reconsider including the newly implemented Employer Health Tax onto the budget. VicPD was unhappy that it was the only city department responsible for fronting the cost, which totals $690,000, and was hoping to have it excluded from its budget. The $690,000 had already been calculated for in the City’s proposed 4.3 per cent tax hike.
“The Employers Health Tax is a game changer for us,” said Manak. “That obviously would significantly impact the reduction of services.”
Manak noted that in other municipalites, including Saanich, the city is responsibile for covering this cost, not the police department.
Secondly, the City had to decide where to find the extra $300,000 for the six new officers.
Coun. Ben Isitt asked if there was any more funds available from newly-assessed revenues or surpluses, but was told by city staff that all new funds had already been allocated by council in previous meetings. This means that either funds will have to be re-allocated, or another tax increase could be put in place if budgets can’t be shuffled.
Isitt then called into question some of the proposed police costs, including whether the $885,000 to replace police vehicles was really necessary.
“If a family experiences a one-time unexpected expenditure it’s very common in households to hold off on expenditures; buy a used car… defer a vacation,” Isitt said. “In a $55 million budget, I think to find $600,000 worth of savings could be described as challenging, but not an impossible or unreasonable task.”
Coun. Jeremy Loveday felt that there wasn’t enough information available to decide what to do, expressing frustration that council still had not seen a revised police budget after two requests.
Ultimately council voted to have the police department draw up two new versions of a revised budget; one including the costs of the six officers and the Employer Health Tax, and one excluding the Employer Health Tax.
The police are expected to have the budget revisions ready by the end of March, or early April at the latest.
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