Kitchener-Waterloo

First draft of 2021 Waterloo regional police operating budget asks for $189.2 million

Police Services Board members will have their first chance to give feedback on the Waterloo Regional Police Service’s 2021 draft budget Monday. The service is asking for an operating budget of approximately $189.2 million.

Police Services Board Chair Karen Redman says she expects changes to budget in coming months

A draft version of the 2021 police budget will go before the Waterloo Regional Police Services Board on Monday. Chief Bryan Larkin has said that he supports investment in mental health and other community services, but does not think this money should be pulled from the police budget. (Matthew Pierce/CBC)

Members of the police services board will have their first chance to give feedback on the Waterloo Regional Police Service's 2021 draft budget Monday.

The service is asking for an operating budget of approximately $189.2 million, an increase of about five per cent compared to 2020.

If the current version of the budget is passed, the average household would pay about $682 for policing operations in 2021, about $22.96 more than this year.

"I feel very strongly that that will not be the final word on the budget and it will look different after the board has scrutinized it and we've had input from police leadership," said Karen Redman, who is both regional chair and chair of the police services board.

The first round of budget talks comes after a summer of heightened attention to the cost and the role of police in Canada and the United States. Locally, advocates have called for a reduction of $29.3 million from the police budget, and say the money should instead be put toward social programs and services in the community.

Chief doesn't support defunding

The 2021 draft budget was included in the agenda at a police services board meeting earlier this month, but was deferred to Monday's meeting.

When asked by a reporter why the draft budget didn't acknowledge calls to reallocate police funding, Chief Bryan Larkin said that while he does support social programs and services that address the root causes of crime, he does not agree with cutting the police budget.

"I believe that we have a service to provide," Larkin said. "And I have not seen a plan and nobody's called me with a plan saying, 'Hey, we can do this, or 'Hey, we'll take on this.'

"Until we have a plan, it's very difficult to simply say we're going to reduce the budget by this amount of money and redirect it."

The reported said that violent crime increased locally by about 20 per cent in 2019 compared to 2018 and that cutting the budget could require cutting police service.

Meanwhile, regional council has asked staff to prepare a draft 2021 operating budget with a targeted property tax impact of zero per cent, including the cost of police services. Staff have also been asked to explore options for a budget with a total property tax impact up to the rate of projected 2021 inflation.

Redman says she expects police will take this under consideration when formulating their budget, although it is not a formal direction.

As it stands, the current police operating budget would have a 1.1 per cent impact on the regional net tax rate, the report said.

"Right now it's the first blush budget," Redman said.

"I know the police chief and the deputies are very aware of the scrutiny that police boards and budgets have been under of late. So I think there'll be lots of questions ... and we have to explore those opportunities."

Budget process

The police service and the board will likely continue to discuss the budget over the coming months. During this time, Redman said the board will also keep regional council informed about how the process is going.

Once the service and the board settle on a figure, the budget will go to regional council for final approval.

Regional council cannot offer line-by-line feedback on the police budget, but it can approve the budget or send it back for further edits. If regional council rejects the police budget, it would once again return to police board for further negotiation.

If police and council still cannot come to an agreement, the matter would then go to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission for resolution.

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