Cape Breton Regional Police expected to come in under budget by $1M
Training, travel and fuel costs were all lower this past year due to COVID-19 restrictions
The Cape Breton Regional Police Service is expected to come in under budget by about $1 million this year — and that's on top of a $1-million cut to the budget due to the pandemic.
Following Cape Breton Regional Municipality's first police commission meeting since June, acting police chief Robert Walsh said Monday that training, travel and fuel costs were all lower this past year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
However, he said, the budget for the coming year needs to return to pre-pandemic levels to cover the cost of officers off work due to long-term disability or workers' compensation benefits.
"We are coming in approximately $1.1 million under budget largely due to unused salaries that had been budgeted for, but due to having members off sick on LTD and WCB, those salaries that were budgeted for remain in the budget and will be turned back in at the end of the fiscal year," Walsh said.
At the height of the staffing challenge over the past several years, 43 of 200 officers were off work due to injuries or illness, the acting chief said.
That level has dropped to about 30, but having officers off sick will always be a challenge, he said.
"Just due to the nature of policing and injuries inherent with the type of work that we do — it's a physical profession — we will always have some people off, and that's expected," said Walsh.
The pre-COVID draft budget last year called for $26.5 million in spending. After the pandemic, it was revised to $25.7 million. CBRM is projecting the fiscal year-end amount will be $24.6 million.
The force is asking for $26.8 million for the coming year.
The pandemic increased some costs for items such as personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, but it also meant restrictions on officer interactions with the public, and lower revenues from records inquiries and fines.
Walsh said it's hard to say just how different the coming year will be compared to last year.
"It's always a challenge for a police service to remain within budget and find efficiencies, especially when there's an uncertain climate presented as a result of COVID-19," he said.
In addition to covering the cost of having officers who are injured or sick, the collective agreement has mandated wage increases.
"Those are costs that we really have little control over," he said. "Otherwise, we've not asked for an increase in our operational budget, nor have we in the past number of years. We've continued to try to find efficiencies to make it work within our existing framework of money."
Coun. Eldon MacDonald, who chairs the police commission, said a consultant's report is expected soon on the overall operational efficiency of the force.
It was requested last year after the municipality's viability study pointed out CBRM has more police officers per capita than any other Canadian jurisdiction of its size.
MacDonald said he expects the study will confirm the need for 200 officers.
"Even though they looked at the amount of officers per capita and population ... they were not suggesting that savings should be made in layoffs," he said.
"Matter of fact, they indicated that one of the best-selling options that we have in our community is ... for people to move and locate here, as our crime rates are low."
CBRM police commissioners unanimously approved the draft budget on Monday.
It is expected to go to council for budget deliberations next week and approval by council sometime after that.