Victoria and Esquimalt could be headed toward another lengthy police funding saga as they say some new resources can be put on hold until next year.
The Victoria and Esquimalt police board is asking for a 9.55 per cent budget increase this year, totalling an added $6 million for the local force.
Victoria council will now tell the board it won’t fund a number of budget items totalling $1.7 million from that increase, spurred by Mayor Marianne Alto’s passed March 13 motion.
Victoria previously voted to cut some planned initiatives, cut department spending and reduce the city’s budget increase to align with a 6.96 per cent inflation rate – while asking the police board to also do the latter. In its response, the police board refused to budge from its requested raise.
Alto said the board is taking a passive approach to sound fiscal management and oversight of its draft budget – which in her view disregards the financial limitations of Victoria taxpayers.
“I’m quite disappointed in the board’s reluctance to assess or reassess their 2023 budget with the same type of analysis or rigour as other departments in the city,” the mayor said.
The motion states the city won’t fund four requested new civilian positions, along with one of the three new officers the police board asked for.
“These changes do not mean these items can never be done, it’s suggesting that this isn’t the year to do them and they can come back for consideration in next year’s budget,” Alto said.
Esquimalt, which has said it overpays for police services and ends up subsidizing Victoria, went a step further as it voted on March 13 against funding any of the seven requested VicPD positions. The township’s council also said added resources can wait a year amid taxpayers already facing inflation pressures.
“Until we can seek a remedy for the challenge that we have, how can we even consider going forward with more increases, and I think both Victoria and Esquimalt have said, over and over, that this marriage is not working,” said Mayor Barb Desjardins. “That’s a message that the province has to at some point accept and deal with.”
The police board has said the new positions are needed to meet legislative requirements and the civilian employees would free up officers doing that work. Still, the councils questioned why there wasn’t more priority around front-line public safety and the need for funding new officers as VicPD struggles to fill current officer openings.
Both councils said they don’t want to pay $150,000 for a body camera pilot project in 2023, but asked that the request come back in the coming years. The two councils also voted to reduce requesting amounts for things like building maintenance and capital funding.
Victoria doesn’t want to fund $100,000 this year for a VicPD benefits reserve it periodically contributes to, but staff noted the city has already fully funded the vested benefits – ones that must be paid out upon officer retirements – for this year.
Alto said it’s highly likely they’re headed for a lengthy appeal process if council goes through with reducing the budget increase. Those have gone against municipalities in recent years, with the province forcing Esquimalt to pay for added VicPD resources last year.
Responding to a question on whether the board will appeal the reductions if both municipalities approve them, Desjardins, also the board’s lead co-chair, said the “board will consider the responses from the municipalities and within that make a determination as to next steps.”