Mayor Ryan Windsor said the Central Saanich police board is addressing issues driving up policing costs, such as overtime pay, after the public received their first glimpse of guidelines governing the 2022 budget.
“These are very important concerns, both from a governance perspective as well as the community perspective,” Windsor, the board’s chair, said at the Aug. 16 council meeting. “How are we balancing these pressures against meeting the demands of our community by controlling costs? That is always an important discussion.”
The public heard the municipality’s police force had accounted for about 50 per cent of all municipal tax increases over the last five years.
In 2021, additional funding for policing accounted for 59 per cent of the overall tax increase of 2.97 per cent. The year also saw the police budget account for 26 per cent of the municipality’s operating budget of $25.6 million – wages and benefits made up 82 per cent of policing costs.
Key drivers of rising labour costs identified by Windsor and staff include overtime and Workers’ Compensation claims, as well as provincially-mandated changes to dispatch services totalling $300,000 over two years.
More broadly, staff identified wages and benefits as the most significant cost driver in Central Saanich’s overall budget. Staff forecast the need for another $316,000 to balance the budget, a figure that represents a tax increase of 1.72 per cent.
These figures prompted vigorous discussion among council members.
Coun. Gordon Newton said he supports the police service, “but it would be great if we could see that being constrained to be a bit more sustainable and manageable in the future.”
Coun. Zeb King wondered aloud about the steps necessary to either keep the municipality’s police force at the current level or not renew contracts as they come up.
Others were more critical in comparing public service levels against the backdrop of rising costs.
“It’s not really justifiable, especially without significant service enhancements that go along with it and I don’t think that is happening,” Coun. Chris Graham said.
Coun. Carl Jensen challenged these criticisms, saying he has not heard demands for a reduction in service levels. “So until we are seeing that, I would have concern about trying to underfund the police service that we have,” he said.
While Windsor acknowledged reducing the number of officers is one way to cut costs, he said not only would service level impacts have to be considered, doing so would require the support of the police department and management.
“If council wanted to request a reduction in the number from, say, 23 active members to 21 members, that would be a request to the police board,” he explained. “The police board would then take it to management for operational impacts and … if they accepted, it would come back through budgeting. But it does rest exclusively under the Police Act with the police board.”
Councillors ultimately forwarded the budget guidelines to the police board, but not before adding language that requests the board to adopt and implement the guidelines, “as appropriate.”
The very first of those guidelines calls for “(status) quo staffing and service levels, non-discretionary increases, and (council) approved resource or service changes.”
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