Few problems expected with Hamilton's police budget

It’ll probably be a smooth ride this week when Hamilton city councillors get their first chance to vote on the police budget.

It’ll probably be a smooth ride this week when Hamilton city councillors get their first chance to vote on the police budget.

At a Thursday budget meeting, councillors will vote to receive the Hamilton Police Service budget, a 2.98-per cent increase over 2013.

That’s different from the year before, when initial drafts of the budget came in at more than five per cent and sparked a battle between council and the police services board.

This budget isn’t ideal, said Coun. Terry Whitehead, who represents Ward 8 and also sits on the police board. The city asked all of its managers to table zero-per cent budget increases.

But this budget is still a good shot, Whitehead said. Zero isn’t always possible.

“It is a target,” he said.

And given that more than 80 per cent of the police budget is salaries and benefits negotiated with unions, the board’s hands are tied, he said.

Once that’s factored in, “there’s very little room except laying off officers,” he said. “And I don’t think any councillors want to see officers laid off.”

The police board approved the budget at Tuesday’s police services board meeting.

Budget highlights:

  • The operating budget is $153.44 million, up $4.18 million from the year before. Of that amount, $144 million will be raised from taxes.
  • Salaries and benefits for officers and civilians have increased 3.14 per cent over the year before. They account for $135.4 million of the budget.
  • The cost of equipment, supplies and services increased marginally, while revenues went down.
  • The budget includes hiring 15 new officers who were hired in 2013 and are now on the payroll. This budget anticipates hiring no new officers.

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, who also chairs the board, said councillors will ask some tough questions.

“But I think at the end of the day, it’ll get the support of council,” he said.

Councillors will only receive it on Thursday. They won’t approve the budget until they approve the entire city-wide budget in the spring.

Last year, council sent the budget back to the police services board three times, asking that it be trimmed. It led to a battle that culminated in city council asking the province for more control over the police services board.

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