The Hamilton Police Service is looking for a $7.1 million increase for its 2013 operating budget — something some councilors say the city simply can't afford.
The increase amounts to a 5.25 per cent raise over the 2012 operating budget, according to a report released Friday. It would bring the total police budget to $143 million next year.
“Policing is a people-based business and that is reflected in the composition of the 2013 Hamilton Police Service Budget,” the report says.
$6.57 million of the increase would go towards salaries and benefits, according to the report.
The 2013 budget also includes a recommended staffing increase of 20 officers and one full-time civilian member. There are currently 794 officers on the force alongside 281 civilian staff.
“I've been a strong supporter of public safety and by extension the Hamilton Police Service budgets in the past,” said Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla. “Having said that, it is disconcerting that the requested increases annually are not consistent with the remainder of our city departments.”
Previously, departments and agencies had been asked to abide by a zero per cent budget increase policy.
Ward 8 Coun. Terry Whitehead said the sentiment towards broad acceptance for police expenditures in Hamilton is changing.
“When I go out to community meetings now, I'm hearing that people are starting to get frustrated,” Whitehead said.
“The problem is 80 per cent of this budget is salary.”
As outlined in the Ontario Police Services Act, council can either adopt the police budget as a whole or reject it outright. They have no authority to manage individual expenditures.
If council rejects the budget request, it would likely be determined through arbitration.
Whitehead is a member of the police board, and told CBC Hamilton that the city “absolutely could not afford,” this proposed price hike.
He also said there needs to be a change in policing policy at the provincial level to help offset costs for municipalities.
“Part of the problem lies in the Arbitration Act,” he said. “Should we be covering a marine unit or should the RCMP? Then what about the airport?”
Coun. Lloyd Ferguson simply called the budget request “unaffordable.”
“I expect the police to settle with the union at the same levels for all other city employees,” he said.
The budget will be presented to the Hamilton Police Services Board at a meeting on Tuesday at City Hall.
Councillors will then debate the proposal during 2013 budget deliberations.