Hamilton police chief told to slash proposed budget

Hamilton's police services board is telling chief Glenn De Caire to have another look at the budget to try to reduce its impact on taxpayers.

Revised budget proposal calls for 4.75 per cent increase, but councillors want it lowered

Chief Glenn De Caire from Hamilton Police Service explains the new proposed budget, which is an increase of 4.75 per cent over last year. The police services board has asked De Caire to find more savings. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton's police services board is telling chief Glenn De Caire to have another look at the budget to try to reduce its impact on taxpayers.

The initial budget for Hamilton Police Service was an increase of 5.25 per cent. De Caire presented a revised budget at a meeting on Monday that meant a 4.75 per cent increase.

But members say they want De Caire to find more savings in the $142-million budget.

"We're close to the taxi strip, but we're not even ready for take off, from my perspective," Coun. Bernie Morelli said. "We need to find a way to get to 3 per cent — or in or around there — in a way that doesn't hurt this community."

The first draft of the budget, presented in November, suggested an increase of $7.1 million over the year before. That would have brought the total police budget to $143 million from $135,641,540 in 2011, an increase of about $30 per year for the average Hamilton household.

By the numbers:

Initial budget: $143 million

Proposed increase: 5.25 per cent, or $7.1 million

Revised budget: $142,083,550

Proposed increase: 4.75 per cent, or $6.4 million

The revised budget proposes a $6.4-million increase, or $142,083,550 in total.

About 80 per cent of the increase is salaries. The new version proposes savings by phasing in the hiring of 20 new officers and one new civilian staff member, and decreasing money for human resources programming, said Ted Mason, chief accountant with the police service.

De Caire warned in November that cutting deeper than 5.25 per cent would mean the loss of 20 positions — five school resources officers, four station duty personnel, nine crime managers and two positions on a team that accompanies social workers on mental health calls.

It would also mean restricting operations at the 2825 King St. E. and 400 Rymal Rd. E. stations to business hours, he said. People who arrive after hours would connect to police communications by phone.

De Caire said Monday that meeting Morelli's target would mean the loss of 39 existing positions — 20 officers and 19 staff members.

The proposed budget is also required to meet the board's 60/40 target that it voted on last year, De Caire said. The target would see 60 per cent of officer staff time spent on reactive work, such as responding to calls, and 40 per cent on proactive work such as school visits and community policing. The force is current at 65/35.

Members debated the potential impact of cutting more.  The budget as it stands "won't fly at council, and I can't sell it at council," Morelli said. "And quite frankly, I agree with them."

Coun. Terry Whitehead said Hamilton's police budget has increased 20.4 per cent since 2008, or about $24 million.

"If you really put sharp pencil to paper, you can find efficiencies," he said.

The next police services board meeting is Jan. 21. De Caire is scheduled to present the budget to council three days later.

If council rejects the budget, it goes back to the board, which can decide whether to appeal to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission. If the board appeals, arguments are presented and the commission rules.

Morelli said during the meeting that the board has faced this challenge before.

"This isn't the first time we've started at 5 per cent."