Monday, March 7, 2011
Is there a lack of public discussion on the City of Ottawa's 2011 budget? Police chief Vern White seems to think so. Here's what he said to reporters earlier today outside the Champlain Room, where the Police Services Board had just adopted the police budget, and where no one from the public gallery took up chair Eli El-Chantiry's invitation to ask questions:
"We've been to all the public forums. I don't think there's been a question to the police or about the police budget yet, which is a bit of a surprise...I do wish that the public were asking more questions overall about the budget of the city, I mean I think that's healthy for the city. I'm not hearing a lot of questions...I wish there was some grassroots discussions going on, and I'm not hearing them. If they're happening, I'm not hearing them."
Why does Chief White think that is?
"How long have you known (the city's budget target) has been 2.5 per cent? Months, right? I mean there's not really a debate around the budget this year. It's more of a discussion about what is 2.5 per cent impact, 12 dollars per home kind of thing...I think debate is important around all aspects of public accountability, and I think certainly on the budget debates."
Chief White is correct: Police Services Board Executive Director Wendy Fedec confirms there were no public delegations when the board first debated the budget back on January 24th. There was none at the board's regular meeting on February 28th. And there was none today. There may have been some questions put to officers who attended the five multi-ward budget consultations. But the fact that there's no official record of this indicates how much weight those questions carry.
The fact is the force was able to find the $6.1-million needed to meet council's 2.5 per cent tax decree with relative ease. It will become a much more difficult task in 2013 and 2014 though. White promises uniformed positions will remain unfilled. He says the public will notice a reduction in service.
The chief also seems to be commenting here on a general lack of consultation on the City of Ottawa's 2011 budget. While public delegations were heard at the committee stage, there will be no comments or questions from the peanut gallery when councillors begin debate tomorrow. They made sure of that when they passed this new budget process back in December.